Biology department chair Dwayne Simmons prioritizes undergraduate research

Photo courtesy of Dwayne Simmons

By Pranay Malempati | Sports Writer

Professor and Chair of Biology Dwayne Simmons, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Pepperdine University and his doctorate from Harvard said he has been intrigued by science for as long as he can remember.

“When I was a babe, my inspiration was Wernher von Braun,” Simmons said. “After defecting from Germany, he was the lead scientist at NASA and got us into space.”

As he grew up, Simmons said his interests moved away from NASA and more towards the biological side of science. Currently, his major area of research is related to how brain function changes as people age.

Simmons said his mentors later in life were people who taught him. He said he is still currently influenced by his mentor at Pepperdine Steve Davis.

“[Davis] became my model in including undergraduates in research,” Simmons said. “That’s a big deal to me.”

Davis said that Simmons stood out to him both as a student and as a researcher.

“He was an outstanding student. I saw that right away,” Davis said. “He was very enthused about biology and about learning in general. It was pretty obvious he would be a successful scientist. The chair of our division (at Pepperdine) asked me, ‘Who is your best student? Who is your brightest student?’ His name was the first that came to my mind, Dwayne Simmons.”

Simmons said that in large part because of Davis, he is a big believer in undergraduate research. He said that to him, it is important to provide research opportunities for Baylor students.

Allen senior Preston Simpson, who researched under Simmons, said he is a great mentor and role model.

“Dr. Simmons is more of a friend than a boss. This makes it enjoyable to work with him and not be afraid to ask for guidance. Dr. Simmons has helped me in many aspects of my life,” Simpson said. “He has not only helped me become a better scientist, but a better person as well. . . Instead of telling others how to be a leader, Dr. Simmons shows you how to be one through his actions.”

Simmons said his version of leadership is not simply achieving the vision he has in his mind. He said that he wants to get his staff and faculty on board with the goals he has for the biology department, even if that means slightly altering said goals.

Robert Doyle, Simmons’ predecessor as biology department chair and current Associate Chair, said that Simmons is a consensus-builder. Doyle said Simmons is helping to push Baylor research in the direction it wants to go.

“Simmons has been helping us do the kind of things we need to do to [move Baylor towards becoming a tier 1 research university,” Doyle said. “On the other hand, he also has a huge passion for the students, undergraduate students. . . he truly values research and graduate education, without putting aside the undergraduate program.”

Simpson said he encourages Baylor students to work with Simmons.

“Dr. Simmons is the best mentor I could ask for,” Simpson said. “I am blessed to be part of his lab and encourage anyone interested in research to contact him. You will not regret it.”