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Teacher Feature: Ethnobotanist Tom Carlson


Joining us now is Flora Lichtman with our Video Pick of the Week. Hi, Flora.


FLATOW: We got something really special this week.

LICHTMAN: It is special. We're turning the spotlight on an underrepresented, under-celebrated, you might say, group: science teachers or anyway. I don't think we're in danger of over-celebrating them.


LICHTMAN: So let's go with that. And the tip came from our very own Christopher Intagliata, associate senior producer here, who told me one that that his teacher in college, Tom Carlson, who's a botanist and a medical doctor, had a really profound impact on Chris's life. And so I thought since we were going out to California...

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: ...it might be fun to pressure in Chris in having an awkward conversation telling Carlson how important that experience was.

CHRISTOPHER INTAGLIATA, BYLINE: I took your medical ethnobotany course in my summer - after my freshman year.


INTAGLIATA: In that year, I'd been taking a lot of weird classes: African drumming, poetry. And then I took class and it sort of woke me up. We were always trailing after you in the garden - the botanical garden.

CARLSON: Right. Thought we'd walk through here a little bit.

INTAGLIATA: Once a week, I think, we went around the garden and you explained things about different species and what they were used for.

CARLSON: Anybody know what this bark is right here? This is cork - Quercus suber. Oh, look at this. Look at the hummingbird there, the ruby-throat. It's getting nectar out of a species of salvia. Oh, my gosh.

INTAGLIATA: Oh. I remember one day, we were walking around the garden...


INTAGLIATA: And it just turned this light bulb on in my head. You don't have to be in school to see this stuff.


INTAGLIATA: And it made me think I want to be a biologist. I want to study biology. And that was a huge revelation for me and I know also some of the other students and it inspired me a lot.

CARLSON: Well, that's amazing to hear. And look what you're doing now. It's - you're communicating about science to people all over in very expansive ways. And you're not the only one that gets inspired. I get inspired and I get energized. It sustains me just to see how your wings are open and your flying in ways that put a fire in your belly. One thing tell students: It's very important whatever subjects or career you're going toward, select something that puts a fire in your belly.

And it's that every hour of every day of work is going to enjoyable. There is always can be difficult times. But you want to select something that you really love. And clearly...

INTAGLIATA: I think you helped me do that.

CARLSON: ...and you've clearly done that. And so this is - it's a - that's what we're here for. That's what we want to do.

FLATOW: Wow. I wish I had a professor like that...

LICHTMAN: Don't we all?

FLATOW: ...inspired. Well...

LICHTMAN: Well, if you do actually, if you're a listener and you do have a professor like that, we're trying to make this page on our website, the feel-good destination of the week on the interwebs, just leave us a story about it. And if you'd like to meet the man, they myth, the legend, Tom Carlson of UC Berkeley, that's in our Video Pick. It's a spotlight of him.

FLATOW: The Video Pick of the Week. There is it up on our website this week. Thank you, Flora.

LICHTMAN: Thanks, Ira. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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