Schooling students with rhymes

It isn’t hard for Lindsay Barber, a medical student at USF, to recall her old USF biology class.

“I still find myself humming, ‘Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer,'” Barber said. “Except instead of singing about shiny, glowing noses, I am singing about various amino acids.”

Roughly twice a month, you can find professor Richard Pollenz singing to his 8 a.m. cellular biology class.

Pollenz has received numerous awards and grants from USF and other universities around the country for his research in biology. Still, he strays away from being the stereotypically rigid science professor by fitting pop songs into his curriculum to keep his students stimulated.

Pollenz’s experience in this field dates back to 1983, when he won his first scholarship and graduated dean’s list from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, according to his resume. Since then, Pollenz has been awarded several honors and fellowships, more than $1.5 million in grants and has earned tenure. He said next semester he plans on becoming a full professor with USF.

“Any professor willing to make a fool of himself adds humanity to the class. It really does make an impact,” Pollenz joked.

Pollenz’s favorite song, “Enzyme,” is sung to the tune of Smashmouth’s “All Star”: “Hey now, you’re an enzyme, bind a substrate today / Vmax is the top rate, make a product, it’s great / All that glitters is gold / Enzymes turn off when they’re told.”

While there are different opinions about the students’ favorite song, a popular Pollenz hit is “Baby Got Cells,” sung to the tune of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”

The idea originated almost 10 years ago, Pollenz said, and was inspired by the Schoolhouse Rock! cartoons he watched as a child. He realized the correlation between music and memory and began using karaoke as a teaching tool.

Pollenz said it’s not out of the ordinary for him to work 80 hours a week. Between teaching and research endeavors, he said he’s never bored.

“He’s just a college student in a professor’s body,” Pollenz’s graduate assistant Jesal Popat said. “You’ll see him all over campus, running around. (He’s) always busy!”

Popat has found Pollenz to be such a skillful teacher that Popat has taken 13 credit hours with him.

Pollenz also upholds an open-door policy for students in need of help and maintains correspondence with some of his past students, Popat said.

“Dr. Pollenz is the proverbial needle in a haystack,” student Elissa Belmont said. “Dr. Pollenz finds a way to sneak in all of the learning styles so that somehow, some way, every student gets a chance to wrap their brain around the material.”