North Central College - Naperville, IL

Cancer researcher returns to North Central to guest lecture science courses

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Zach Pratt hopes to combine his passion for scientific research with his knack for teaching.

Since earning his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from North Central in 2005, Pratt has completed his doctorate in cancer biology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He returned to North Central in February 2011 to guest lecture some biology courses, using bacteria to teach a lesson in evolution.

“What I like most about teaching are those ‘aha’ moments, where you see students getting excited about the work they’re doing and how they can apply what they learn to real-life situations,” he says. Pratt’s got what it takes to make a good professor, students say.

“He explains things really well and he’s really patient,” says Mary Blaha, a freshman majoring in chemistry who participated in a lab guest-taught by Pratt.

Pratt made the most of his opportunities while he studied at North Central. His work in Associate Professor of Biology Steve Johnston’s lab helped him win a coveted Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship for science in 2004.

“I got pushed to do research over the summers, and that turned out to be really beneficial,” he says. “It showed me what doing research in a lab was really like.”

North Central offers degrees in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, physics and other scientific areas of study. North Central alumni include leading doctors, researchers and others in the sciences.

Pratt is a post-doctoral research assistant at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the lab of Dr. Chuck Kasper and Dr. Amy Wong. He is studying the survival of salmonella in suboptimal environments. 

He made multiple visits to North Central during Winter Term 2011. On Feb. 3, the day after a blizzard brought most of northern Illinois to a standstill, he made the 100-mile trip to Naperville from his home in Janesville, WI, in time to keep his commitment to guest lecture classes.

As for his future, Pratt hopes to secure a professorship at a small liberal arts college.

“I want to teach at a school like North Central,” he says.

To see more of Pratt's interaction with students on North Central College's Flickr gallery.