The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Learning biology firsthand through travel; City College professor discusses studying abroad
Professor James reminiscing about French Polynesia in his office with a travel book about its birds. Phoenix Kanada | Staff Photographer | [email protected]

Stephanie Montano
Guest Writer 


The office is messy. Biology professor Stephen James shares the small space with his colleague, fellow biology professor Dave Wyatt, in Lillard Hall on the City College campus. Posters of animals and insects are crookedly scattered on the walls. Metal bookshelves, kissed slightly with rust, are filled to the ceiling with books. Titles of every genre and sort rest on the spines of each worn copy. 

Two fish tanks, lined with green algae, are placed on the office counters, one separating James’ space from his colleague’s. Pens, ungraded exams, sunglasses and an uneaten tangerine grace the top of James’ old beaten-up desk. It’s chaotic good.

Stephen James, 61, who likes to just go by Steve, sits in his office before class. This is a typical day for him. Dressed in his usual button-up shirt, tucked into a pair of worn blue jeans, James sits at his desk and jokes with Wyatt. Today the two professors joke about the Giants game that Wyatt is watching at his desk.

James has been teaching full time at City College since 2000. If you were to sit down and have a conversation with James, within five minutes you would be fully aware of how passionate he is about his profession. As a biology professor, he has a deep root of care for nature and the world. Along with the care that James has for the Earth comes a need to explore its every corner and crevice.

Imagine getting the opportunity to travel to a foreign city full of history, culture and vibrant communities. Now, imagine getting this same opportunity while also getting paid. It sounds like a pretty cool life, right? Lucky for James, he has received this opportunity — twice.

James has taught in the Los Rios Community College District’s study abroad program, which is available to all students. 

The program travels to Florence, Barcelona, London, and on occasion, Paris, in semester and summer increments. Around 2014, James decided that he wanted to get involved. His first official trip was to Barcelona in the fall of 2015. James started promoting the program to his students about a year before. James says experiential education is a great opportunity that all students should take advantage of. 
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“I’ve always been a great believer that there are so many things to be experienced outdoors and outside of the existing classroom,” says James about why he joined the study abroad program. “To actually walk to something and look at it, to view that church, to taste that olive oil in the place where they’re pressing it, I just find that experiential education is a phenomenal opportunity now and in the past, but especially now that we rely on electronic devices to give us so much of our experience.”

Apart from the official district travel program, James has traveled and taught in multiple educational trips to Baja California in Mexico and Belize in South America. Wyatt has accompanied James and the students on those trips. In summer 2019, James will accompany Wyatt and students on a trip to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador.

As if on cue, Wyatt jokes from behind the fish tank divider: “He’s a hard guy to travel with.” 

James lets out a chuckle. 

James has done a lot of traveling around the world for leisure, as well. He says he never feels the want to leave a place he is visiting, that he never gets homesick. Traveling has enlarged James’ understanding of his roles as a person and as a professor. 

“I like how he shows us examples of what we’re learning, and how he gives us anecdotes on things he has experienced that correlate with what we’re learning in class,” says Erika Jimenez, one of James’ students. “It makes it easier to remember when it’s time for the test. His energy and enjoyment of what he teaches is also helpful, because he wants to help students understand the material.”

When James talks about the places he has visited, the conversation transcends listeners to that exact place. It is clear that James is anything but a homebody. 

When you have traveled to a lot of different places, you have to have a favorite, right? James has a tough time deciding his favorite destination. 

“French Polynesia,” he says after a long pause. “I’m very lucky to have friends who live in French Polynesia on the island of Mo’orea. The feeling of family and the feeling that we had when we were there, and the new friends that we met while we were there, it was tremendous. We all cried pretty hard when we left.” ♦ 

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