Finding the micro in the macro

While many scientific observations happen in a laboratory, the most fascinating discovery for Shannon DeVaney is a few inches long, neon orange and lurks within the depths of the deep-sea Atlantic Ocean. 

“One little specimen that we caught on one of these cruises was this little eel,” DeVaney said. “It’s like a highlighter and it was amazing and none of us had ever seen anything like this before. It turned out it wasn’t a new species to science, unfortunately, but it was only the third time that species had ever been caught anywhere. And it hadn’t even been caught in that part of the world. It was known only from the Indian Ocean and we caught it in the Atlantic Ocean, so it was astonishing to be the third.” 

DeVaney is the department chair of Life Sciences and this spring marks her 10th year teaching biology at Pierce College. She teaches Biology 3 and Biology 7, along with some Biology 6.

She received her Ph.D in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kansas. She specifically studied deep-sea fishes and collected specimens as part of her research as a graduate student. 

“When I was a graduate student, you didn’t have a lot of funding for your own research. So, I had to go on existing voyages that were already happening with other researchers at other institutions and was lucky enough to be invited along a few times,” DeVaney said.

She was a postdoctoral researcher at the Natural History Museum before working as a professor at Pierce. 

DeVaney grew up in Washington state in the Pacific Northwest and spent a lot of time outdoors in the woods as a child, observing frogs and salamanders.

“In doing full-time research it made me realize how much I wanted to be teaching because I wasn’t teaching, so I was really looking for a job where I could be teaching in the local area. The position at Pierce made me excited for so many things,” DeVaney said. 

She always looks for wildlife whenever she has free time. She has visited various countries during her career as an evolutionary biologist, such as the Galapagos Islands and several deep-sea expeditions. 

She said her most memorable voyage was to the Midatlantic Ridge, a trip that lasted several months at sea.

Biology professor Brandon Jones said DeVaney was on her first tenure committee.

“In your tenure committee, you get people assigned to you, and you get one person to pick and she’s the person I picked,” Jones said. “I think almost everybody who has a tenure committee in biology picks Shannon because she’s down to earth, she’s smart and she’s organized. I feel bad for her because she’s on so many committees, but that’s what happens when you’re great. People keep wanting you to do more and more and more.”

Jones said DeVaney helps host an open house every semester at the Gold Creek Natural Area. 

“Faculty go out and students can go out and I think it’s a department owned natural site, and she’s our representative for peers,” Jones said. “So, she’s always up there getting things put together and planning tours. And I think the last time I went; her husband Jonathan was the one barbecuing all the hot dogs. So, it’s kind of a family affair for her.” 

He said she oversees putting the schedules together and working out room situations. 

“With biology, we have so many full-time faculty,” Jones said.  “It’s not like there’s two people and like two classrooms to manage. We have all the downstairs lecture halls of all the upstairs lectures to make it all fit. It’s tough and she makes it fit.”

Jones said she is the one who keeps the department together and wears a lot of different hats.

“Ask everybody in the biology department. At least everybody’s had her on a committee because she’s a part of everything we do,” Jones said.

Biology major Rojawn Khoshnan is a student in DeVaney’s Bio 7 lecture and lab class. 

Khoshnan said she has enjoyed using the microscopes and getting to observe specimens closely. 

“We’ve done a lot of microscope work, that’s just about it as of now because it’s still the beginning,” Khoshnan said. “We’ve been looking at slides of organisms and stuff like that. She knows that lab and lecture can get boring at times so tries to make it relevant to what we do.”

She said DeVaney tries to make the class interesting and relatable.

“I think she honestly cares for her students which is unlike some of the teachers here at Pierce. I think she’s going to try and help everyone succeed to the best of her abilities,” Khoshnan said.

DeVaney said she has been thinking about taking over the Marine Biology field class because Professor Raymond Wells is retiring.

“I hope to stay here and keep teaching,” DeVaney said. “I want to do this until I retire. I don’t want to do anything else.”