Textbook Example: Professor turns personal success into generous spirit
“When you invest in students,” said Dr. Ken Saladin, professor of biological and environmental science, “especially our top notch students, you’re helping someone who will give back in a similar fashion in their own careers. So, I think the investment becomes magnified in that way.”
And invest he has. Saladin, the author of award-winning and best-selling textbooks on human anatomy and physiology, has donated or pledged more than $1.5 million to Georgia College, much of it for scholarships or programs to enhance the student learning experience. His combined contributions are the largest from any single individual to the university.
“Georgia College has been the centerpiece of my adult life, and I’ve gotten so much from this place that I find more satisfaction in giving back to it than in owning a boat or vacation home or anything like that.”
His most recent donation, a $1 million pledge to endow a chair for mentoring for pre-medical students, was prompted in part by a similar donation last year from alumna Martha Daniel Newell, ’42. The Newell gift is to create an endowed visiting professorship in the arts and sciences.
The story in the Spring 2010 edition of Connection magazine about her donation “inspired me to match it,” Saladin said, “so you could say it amplified the value of her gift.”
A three-time recipient of the Phi Kappa Phi “outstanding mentor” award, he is held in high regard by students. One wrote on the Rate My Professors website: “By far the best teacher I've had at (Georgia College)! He's adorable and really funny! He makes anatomy so interesting and makes you want to learn about it! His tests are pretty rough and you really have to work but it's completely worth it to take his class!”
That reaction gratifies Saladin, who appreciates being able to invest in such students. “I feel like, to use that cliché, I’m kind of paying it forward to the next generation,” Saladin said. “I hope other faculty will donate what they can to help the institution and our students.”
Saladin is a classic example of achievement. Developing a passion for “nature studies” as a child, he was encouraged by his teachers to go to college to pursue his interest in zoology, particularly freshwater animals. The first in his family to attend college, Saladin graduated from Michigan State University and went on to graduate school with a teaching assistantship at Florida State University.
“The thought of getting in front of an audience and talking like I was an expert in something just tied my stomach in knots,” Saladin recalled. “I desperately needed the money so I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to have to teach, I guess – teach, or starve.”
“But from the very first five minutes in the classroom, I just knew that this was really my calling,” he said. “I knew this was what I’d really like to do the rest of my life.”
Just as he was finishing his doctoral degree, he learned that Georgia College had an opening that would match his specialties. He was appointed a temporary assistant professor, but that “temporary” appointment has now spanned 33 years. “I guess they liked me enough to keep me.”
Georgia College has been the perfect fit. At the end of his second year teaching here, a graduating student who had just finished one of his classes asked him to have dinner with her. “So I did, and three months later we were married.” Saladin’s wife, Diane, is a nurse and they have two grown children: son Emory, with a degree in interior design who specializes in repurposing buildings for new uses and daughter Nicole, with degrees in marine science and environmental management working for North Carolina State University.
“She picked up on my zoological interests,” Saladin notes.
As a biologist, Saladin also has developed a special interest in the Galápagos Islands, a site crucial to Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection
“I had become somewhat enchanted with the Galápagos as a teenager. Then, decades later, getting the opportunity to go, I just had to jump on that.”
On that initial trip with his family, Saladin was impressed with “the animals there being so docile and almost indifferent to any human presence -- you can observe so much at practically arm’s reach.” He felt the experience “was something I really needed to share with my students, so I’ve been taking students down there ever since.”
From his earliest days at Georgia College, Saladin taught courses in human physiology, later adding human anatomy. In the early 1990s, a publisher invited him to write his own textbook in the field, and that has since become a major focus of his career.
He now has two textbooks in print with McGraw-Hill Higher Education, and a third in progress. He not only writes the texts but plans the illustrations and concepts for the artwork. His conversational, storytelling writing style have made the texts into best sellers throughout the world, and Saladin often receives e-mails from students not just in North America, but from such regions as Africa, India and Australia. A group of Australian medical students created a Facebook interest group on Saladin’s book.
“Had it not been for Georgia College, I never would have had the opportunity to write the textbooks that have proven so surprisingly successful,” Saladin said. “I derive great fulfillment from my students and colleagues every day that I teach at Georgia College, and my contributions are but a small token of gratitude for the career that I have had here.”
In fact, teaching remains his greatest joy. “It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning and makes my blood flow,” Saladin said. “I feel usually at my happiest when I’m in the classroom.”
The donations by Dr. Ken Saladin support a variety of university priorities.
- An Endowed Chair for Pre-Medical Mentoring. As a highly regarded mentor himself, Saladin has played an influential role in helping many Georgia College students advance to medical school. “It’s hard to imagine any better investment than exceptional students who will undoubtedly contribute so much to society.”
- The William Harvey Medical Scholarship for a Georgia College graduate attending medical college.
- An endowment for the Doris C. Moody Honors Scholarship for Life Sciences for biology majors in the Honors Program. Dr. Moody, a former biology professor and director of the Honors Program, was “an exemplary colleague.” Saladin wished to honor her contributions to the university. “I always considered her a role model – the way she reached out to students and the graciousness of her character.”
- An endowment to support the perpetual maintenance of the Natural History Museum in Herty Hall and to curate its display and research collections. The endowment is in honor of Dr. Bill Wall, who plans to step down as biology department chair this year, and “whose dream was to bring the natural history museum at Georgia College to fruition. He worked very hard to create the museum and this will ensure its continuing operation.”
- To remodel and modernize the Human Anatomy Laboratory in 239 Herty Hall “to bring it up to contemporary standards for this discipline.” The upgrades will include an instructor’s demonstration bench and enhanced computer and projection equipment, and make it easier for instructors to circulate among the student workbenches.
Additionally, Dr. Saladin has made smaller donations to many other programs, including the Honors and Scholars Endowment, the Pre-Medical Program, the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Study Abroad for students to the Galapagos Islands, the 1200 Club, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Heritage Fund, Georgia College Bands and the Dance Minor Program.