Biologist Couple Joins Southwestern Team

Biologist Couple Joins Southwestern Team

Drs. Peter and Amy McHenry

It may seem unusual to find a husband and wife team teaching in the same department in the same university. But in the case of Drs. Peter and Amy McHenry, the unusualness is, to a great degree, fortuitous.

Southwestern Adventist University was desperately seeking new biology professors to replace teachers who were leaving, as well as to continue to strengthen the department. At the same time, the McHenrys were looking for what was best for their growing family. The young couple has three children: baby Isaiah, born in late July; Nadia, age two; and Malachi, who turns 4 in October.

“I think that we’re a really good fit for the school right now,” says Peter. “And the school is a really good fit for us.”

Peter and Amy finished their doctoral studies in 2006, and both got caught up in research. Peter’s specialty is tumor cell biology and he studied prostate cancer and breast cancer. Amy did molecular biology, focusing on parasitology, malaria and infectious disease.

They continually fielded calls from schools, asking if they were interested in a teaching position, and they turned them down. Dr. Suzanne Phillips, chair of Southwestern’s biology department, called them for four years.

“Year after year, she kept bugging me, and I would say no,” Amy said. But in 2011, there was something different.

“Before she had been offering one of us a job,” Peter says. “This time, she said, ‘We want both of you to come down and interview.’ And it wasn’t like, ‘Would you be interested.’”

“We really, really prayed about it; where God was leading us,” says Peter. “But there was something different about this school. God wasn’t telling us, go there. But He was telling us, there’s something different this time.”

Even though Amy and Peter enjoyed research, it was an all-consuming, extremely demanding career. Amy and Peter tell of friends in research who neglect their families and their churches to pursue their jobs.

“We love research, but we can’t commit in that way,” says Amy.

Peter believes that their background in research will benefit students at Southwestern. “A biomedical research program for the undergrads is something that the school needs,” he says. “They can put that on their resume when they apply to medical school, or when they go on to graduate school.”

Amy appreciates the “family friendly” atmosphere at Southwestern. In the past, she’s had people understand why she wants to stay home with her children. And she has others who understand her love for research. But she says, “The people in science say, ‘Why would you take time off to stay home with your kids? That’s what daycare is for.’

“To be at a place where I can be recognized for both of those things is unusual. And to have a program that was flexible enough to allow us to take of our kids is just remarkable.”

Peter and Amy have a desire for students to learn more than just the rote facts. Peter explains that facts can always be looked up online. What’s important is the thinking process that’s behind it.

“Students need to be able to look critically at information that’s given to them and understand how that information is obtained,” he says. “Finally, they need to learn how to communicate that information.”

“What’s important to me is that students can know that you can be a solid scientist and you don’t have to apologize for being a Christian and a creationist,” says Amy.


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  1. Max
    August 23, 18:40 Reply
    This is excellent news! I am pleased to see that the Biology department is making strides in implementing more biomedical sciences coursework and research. Hopefully there will be more of an emphasis in getting promising students into basic science graduate programs.
  2. Ghabrielle
    September 08, 06:57 Reply
    I am excited for the new Biology majors that would be able to sit in the classrooms of these professors. They seem to have such passion and I think that is important in the field of biomedical science. This is a great addition to the Biology department and I agree with Dr. McHenry when he says " facts can always be looked up online. What’s important is the thinking process that’s behind it"

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