Retired Biology Professor to Serve in Peace Corps


Mary Shaw

Las Vegas, N.M. – A retired Highlands University biology professor will devote her experience teaching science to high school students in Ghana through Peace Corps service.

Mary Shaw, who taught at Highlands from 1993 – 2016, begins her Peace Corps training May 27.

“I have always been drawn to international service and the chance to spend time overseas immersed in a different culture,” Shaw said. “I enjoyed teaching at Highlands a great deal, and believe I can apply my knowledge and experience through Peace Corps service.”

Shaw said the greatest joy of a teacher is to see one’s students grow and fulfill their goals.

“By trying to put the educational needs of the Ghana students first, I hope to help them improve their personal welfare and that of their community and country. I welcome the opportunity to work with individuals who have different world views, values and outlooks on life. It’s a very exciting challenge,” Shaw said.

Ghana is in West Africa, located along the Gulf of Guinea and Atlantic Ocean.

“I said I would serve wherever I was needed. The Peace Corps selected Ghana for me as a place that had a need for high school science teachers,” Shaw said.

A longtime proponent of active learning, Shaw said the goal of this teaching method is to cultivate deep learning, where students can apply their knowledge and think like scientists.

“In Ghana, the country is transitioning from a traditional lecture style of teaching to more active learning. My active learning teaching experience at Highlands was appealing to the Peace Corps,” said Shaw, who chaired the Biology and Chemistry Department at Highlands from 2009 – 2012.

She said her career has been dedicated to advancing scientific knowledge and teaching that contributes to helping people lead fulfilling lives.

“At this point, I don’t think I will contribute any more to advancing science, but some of my students in Ghana might. People are curious about the world around them and how it works, with science answering some of these questions,” Shaw said.

She said the world needs a diverse group of people asking questions on science and other subjects.

“It’s important to me that people who have not typically had a voice, like students in Ghana, be encouraged to participate in this dialogue. Teaching at Highlands gave me valuable experience working with a diverse student population,” Shaw said.

Shaw, who is 67, completed a rigorous medical evaluation for the Peace Corps. She said she keeps physically fit through ranch work at her home in the Gallinas Canyon and yoga.

In addition, Shaw served the La Placita Volunteer Fire Department for more than 15 years, something she said is also physically demanding.

“Our fire department includes a number of older women like me,” Shaw said.

Shaw earned her Ph.D. in plant pathology from the University of California – Davis and completed postdoctoral research at Oklahoma State University. At Highlands, her teaching focused primarily on introductory science courses and labs.

During her tenure at Highlands, Shaw helped secure more than $2 million in grant funding for the university from sources like the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health. Much of this funding focused on student education and research.

During her career, Shaw authored numerous peer-reviewed articles in scholarly publications such as Microbiology, Plant Disease, and Cell Biology Education.  

In 2013, the American Society for Microbiology selected Shaw to participate in the Biology Scholars Program.