Congratulations to Biological Sciences Instructor, Gary Heller, who was named College of Western Idaho’s (CWI) Faculty of Distinction for December 2022!
Heller has been part of the CWI community for the last 12 years, where he has taught a wide variety of Biology and Environmental Sciences courses. Before teaching and CWI, Heller held various roles in wildlife management.
He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Management from Cal Poly Humboldt in Arcata, California, and his Master of Science degree in Zoology and Physiology from the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyoming. While in Wyoming, Heller worked as a consulting wildlife biologist and throughout the state and the western region on habitat analysis, raptors, and other bird species, impacts of mining, oil, and gas development, and threats to endangered species.
In 1996, Heller moved to Boise after accepting a new job — not in wildlife management, but as a youth pastor for a local, non-denominational Christian church.
“It was still ‘wildlife management,’ just with different creatures and without all the tranquilizing equipment,” Heller joked. “My five years in this position were both challenging and very rewarding, and I continue to maintain friendships with many of my former students.”
After his work in Christian youth ministry, Heller discovered what he believes is his true calling in life — teaching in the biological sciences. He became a biology and physics teacher at a private high school in the Treasure Valley for a year and taught several environmental science and general education courses at the University of Phoenix in Meridian.
“I truly enjoy the process of helping students understand challenging material and concepts as well as encouraging them to excel not only in my classes but in their future careers and life,” said Heller.
After another stint in youth ministry and working as a project manager for a local non-profit for several years, Heller returned to his call to teach and joined the faculty team at CWI in January 2011.
“I have had many wonderful students over the years. I really enjoy challenging students to think and look beyond their perceived limitations,” Heller said. “I remember an Anatomy and Physiology lab student several years ago who, with some encouragement from myself and other faculty, went on to pursue their medical degree as a physician. We could see their potential.”
Other faculty around CWI have also noticed how passionate Heller is to teach and how he helps guide students to reach their full potential. Students say they always recommend Heller to others who are in search of a biology class because they know they will learn a lot and have fun while doing so.
“Gary is funny, supportive, and brings compassion to his students,” said Biology student, Ophelia Griffith. “Biology is a hard class to take. He is a stern educator, but he is someone who genuinely wants you to succeed.”
“I’ve had Gary for many classes, and he has been an exceptional instructor,” said Geology student, Allison Lerback. “His attitude is kind and hilarious. He is an absolute pleasure to be taught by, and I always look forward to his classes.”
One of Heller’s favorite parts of being in the classroom and teaching others is having the opportunity to educate others about the human impacts on the environment — which he said gives him hope for the planet.
“Students tend to ‘get it’ by the end of a semester in Environmental Science,” Heller said. “They always come away from the four field trips in the Environmental Science lab with a much better understanding of their personal impact to, and responsibility for, our planet.”
Heller provides his students with essential academic learning as well as real-world knowledge and experience, such as how to build a resume, create a cover letter, and pursue job opportunities. He also works to bring in industry professionals to speak to and interact with his classes each semester, which has resulted in dozens of students earning internships and jobs over the years.
“CWI empowers students to become and do MORE than they initially believe they can when they first start with us,” Heller said.
Outside of the classroom, Heller enjoys being outside and interacting with nature, whether it be fishing, bird and wildlife watching, landscaping with native plants, or hiking. He also is a huge Boise State and Seattle Seahawk fan!