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Aviatrix, biologist: alumna brings it to the classroom

So, I just gave unexpected chalk talks (on a real chalkboard – they exist, at least at Erskine College!) for both my freshmen and upperclass majors in Cell Biology because I was impatient with the AV aids and got so much positive feedback from my students.

Kim K. graduation
Kimberly Kanapeckas completed her Ph.D. in genetics in August.

This comment on Facebook—ending with “#killedit#oldschool”—captured a recent day in the life of Visiting Professor of Biology Dr. Kimberly Kanapeckas. She had reverted to using a chalkboard in her classes, and it worked out just fine. Like many teachers, she possesses knowledge and enthusiasm, along with a dedication to communicating both to her students.

A member of the Erskine College Class of 2007, Kanapeckas is no stranger to Due West, where she grew up and graduated as valedictorian of Dixie High School. She majored in biology at Erskine.

She spent several adventure-filled years in Africa, working with big-game animals in remote areas where wildlife studies often require the use of aircraft, and there she became interested in aviation.

Along the way, she developed the Zambezi Buffalo Project, conducting research in the Zambezi Valley, and earned a master’s degree in Zoology/Epidemiology at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

Kim K pilot certificate
Kanapeckas displays her pilot certificate.

When she came back to the United States, she pursued both biology and aviation. Asked about her most recent activities, she cites several milestones. “Before earning my Ph.D., I passed my FAA oral examination and checkride and am a certificated private pilot.”

Kanapeckas has expressed special interest in natural resource aviation, and she has been on the path to gaining her aviation credentials for some time. But her recent certification as a private pilot is only part of the story.

“One of my passions in aviation is aerobatics,” she explains. “I’ve been trained some in aircraft control and aerobatic maneuvers including the ‘split s,’ hammerhead, rolls—including barrel rolls—and spin recovery.”

So, in addition to her certification as a private pilot, she is happy to have earned “an FAA Tailwheel Endorsement, which allows me to fly airplanes with a conventional gear—bush planes and a lot of aerobatic airplanes.”

The plane Kanapeckas used while learning aerobatic maneuvers is a Citabria—the name is ‘airbatic’ spelled backwards. “Parachutes required!” she says proudly.

Kim K. with Stefanie Baker
Former Erskine biology professor Dr. Stefanie Baker, right, surprised Kanapeckas at her Ph.D. commencement.

Meanwhile, she completed her doctoral work at Clemson, graduating in August with a Ph.D. in genetics, then accepted an appointment as visiting professor at Erskine.

“I teach freshman biology for majors, cell biology, and co-teach senior seminar,” she says. “I feel blessed to work with the faculty, and many of the students are a joy to mentor.”

Kanapeckas recently submitted for publication two manuscripts from her doctoral dissertation, and in her spare time teaches children about basic aerodynamic concepts, serves as a volunteer pilot introducing aviation to local Boy Scout troops, and even works the occasional birthday party, including one for a three-year-old “obsessed with aviation.”

What’s next for Kimberly Kanapeckas?

“Soon, I will sit the patent bar for admission to the US Patent and Trademark Office as a registered patent agent,” she says. “I interned in the patents division of one of the top intellectual property law firms in Africa when I was completing my master’s degree, so I am excited to become a patent scientist focusing on protecting intellectual property in the biotechnology and aeronautical sectors.”

Aviation, biology, and patent science, not necessarily in that order, provide not boundaries but scope for this alumna’s seemingly boundless curiosity and energy.

And her students at Erskine will benefit from her teaching, whether “old school” or not.




aaaakimk in plane


Read more about Kimberly Kanapeckas on the Erskine news site here.





Erskine and Due West Skyline

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