Kennesaw State professor finds purpose and inspiration in collaboration

Kennesaw, Georgia (May 23, 2022) Whether it’s to aid research designed to save bats from extinction or work with the theater department on a play about Bigfoot, Kennesaw State University biologist Thomas McElroy is a natural collaborator.

Photo of Thomas McIlroy in the lab with students in the background
Thomas McIlroy

“I mostly like the people I work with,” McIlroy said. “I am excited for them about what they are passionate about, and if I can help them and they can help me, that would be great. Let’s get to work.”

For 18 years in Kennesaw State, McIlroy, Associate Professor of Biology has taught hereditary differences in different demographics, has been an essential resource and valuable partner to faculty across the College of Science and Mathematics and beyond. One of the reasons he came to work at King Saud University was the opportunity to collaborate with fellow faculty members.

In one of this collaboration, associate professor of biology Eric Albrecht needed help figuring out why adults and young scorpions have different levels of toxicity, so he turned to McElroy, as had more than 20 researchers before him. In Albrecht’s case, he and McElroy pooled their resources in terms of funding, student assistants, and laboratory processes for a published paper.

“DNA and RNA are everywhere,” McIlroy said. “I can study seaweeds, scorpions, snakes, soils and find variable genetic markers. Lots of people have different experiences, and this helps them expand their research projects to include another level of question, this time at the genetic level.”

Albrecht said he sought McElroy’s expertise in environmental genetics for this reason — to take the knowledge gained to a deeper level. McElroy also helped secure internal funding, directing students’ work on study and writing the manuscript that was eventually published. Albrecht and McIlroy stressed the importance of the cooperation resulting from daily encounters.

“Most internal collaborations develop through conversation and similar research interests, and often one faculty member seeks a partnership with another,” Albrecht said. “In all aspects of the collaboration, faculty members have to work at the same pace, have the same goals, have critical experience and coexist on a personal level. That is why I chose to work with Thom.”

That’s all in McElroy’s day of work. He’s helped research white-nose syndrome among bats, how urbanization affects sewage quality, and how electric turf can help mitigate lead poisoning of the soil. He even collaborated with the theater department on a series of short plays about de-extinction and the origins of Bigfoot.

In addition to working with a wide range of faculty, McIlroy said he also enjoys the teaching aspect of his job — another type of collaboration. He has mentored dozens of students in both undergraduate and graduate research, which he says is the most satisfying aspect of his job.

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An avid musician, McIlroy said he sees teaching as his own kind of performance and tries to convey that enthusiasm to his students, whether they are directing their work in the lab or talking about the topic of the day.

“Encouraging students to be curious and want to learn is a huge part of my job. That’s where scientists come from, so I hope I can help them be passionate about science,” McIlroy said. “Because their success is our success, and that’s very important to me.”

– Dave Schles
David Caselli’s photo


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Kennesaw State University, a leader in innovative teaching and learning, offers undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees to nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro campuses in Atlanta, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The vibrant campus culture, diverse demographics, strong global connections and entrepreneurship attract students from all over the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie PhD (R2) research institution, placing it in the elite group of only 6 percent of US colleges and universities with R1 or R2 status. For more information visit kennesaw.edu.