Professor Jeffrey Klemens

Professors are boring, right? Wrong. Anyone who thinks that has not met Jeffrey Klemens. Klemens is a professor here at Philadelphia University, and he teaches courses like Eco-Innovations and Sustainability, Biology for Design, IDP, Research Methods, and Biology I and II. He will also be teaching Genetics starting next fall. Being a student of Professor Klemens, I witness first hand how much Klemens loves his job, which in turn allows his students to love his class. I met up with Professor Klemens to learn more about his professional and social life.


HC: Where did you go to college?

JK: I went to college at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois. It was a small yet large school.


HC: What was your major?

JK: I was a Biology major.


HC: Why did you choose Biology?

JK: I went to college thinking I was going to go to Medical school, and I didn't realize until I got there that there was such a thing as a biologist, or college professor. I've seen Jacques Cousteau on TV, but I didn't realize that was something people actually did. There are biologists who do research and are doing things that interest them, and as soon as I saw that, I knew what I wanted to do.


HC: What made you get into the sustainability aspect of science?

JK: After graduating at IWU, I went to graduate school at University of Pennsylvania, and that's how I came to Philadelphia. I then started working in the Tropics of Costa Rica, so my field work is all about how tropical forests regrow following disturbance. I worked in a kind of forest called dry forest which has been 99.9% destroyed throughout Central America. So what's there is either under human pressure, or it is being restored. I did a post-doc in that at the University of Minnesota and I came back to Philadelphia and decided to stay. I worked then as a consultant and I was becoming more involved in sustainability because I was working with engineers and architects on green development projects. While I was doing that, PhilaU sent a blast email around to all biology departments in town and they said “we need someone to rate this class in Biomimicry.” And so I came up, wrote the class, and then I started doing some adjunct teaching here at Philadelphia University and was in charge of certain DEC-Systems programs for a couple years and then this fall I started as a professor in the Biology department.


HC: How long have you been teaching for?

JK: If you count back to when I taught my first undergraduate class, around the age of 22 years old, that would be around 16 years that I've been teaching.


HC: Where else have you taught besides PhilaU?

JK: I've been teaching field courses in Costa Rica since I was a graduate student, so that was a way to pay for my plane tickets down. I would get a bunch of college kids who wanted to go to Costa Rica to take a Bio course. It has expanded since I started it, and it now involves several other schools. That was my first sustained, hands on teaching experience. I had done some teaching of biology courses at University of Pennsylvania before come to PhilaU as well.


HC: PhilaU is all about Powered To Do and finding things either on or off campus that we could improve or make more sustainable. If you could pick something to change/improve here, what would it be?

JK: One of the things that has occurred to me is that we are at this weird spot halfway in between local train stations, and we have some off/on campus housing that is distant and separated. We have the buses that circulate, but it seems like we have a lot of driving from close distances to campus, and it leads to a large parking crunch. There is this pressure for more parking which is more hardscape versus the more environmentally friendly greenscape. If I could add another one, I would say we should have more of a connection to the Wissahicken park since we're right next to it. How do we take advantage of the fact that we're next to this amazing, urban and natural area? This is something that either myself or other professors could figure out. 


HC: On the other hand, what do you love most about PhilaU?

JK: The students, obviously. I think it is a really interesting place because we have a great mix of students, those who are strictly academic based and those who want to learn skills and tools to do things differently. We attract loads of students that have the ability to be entrepreneurs and design, create and construct stuff. This challenges us as professors and we are finding different ways to support, engage and teach these students something that is not necessarily offered at other universities. We are very open to the non-traditional ways of a classroom and that to me is my favorite part. It is a fun job because we are constantly changing things and trying something new. Some places may teach generic courses where here at PhilaU, you having people encouraging you to teach something brand new to the student body.


HC: What do you do with your free time?

JK: I play music and I am in a couple bands: Row Home on the Range, Alex and the Beggars, and Gavilan. That is a big creative outlet to do something different. Most of what we do is our original music, so we write, arrange and sometimes perform our music. And I have two kids! I'm always doing cool stuff with my kids. They're 2 and 4 years old, so you are able to do all the cool kid stuff one last time, like sledding. You can't just show up to a hill and sled by yourself. Since I have a 4 year old, that's my excuse to be able to sled and maybe even go ice skating. I have nothing to complain about.


HC: What do you enjoy most about having kids?

JK: There is this amazing window on how interesting the world is, and once you are middle aged, there are things that you see around you multiple times. But little kids see things for the first time and they tell you how cool they are, and this reminds you of how cool you once thought it was! It gets you excited again. It lets you realize that snow on a February morning is not just about worrying whether or not you'll have to shovel your car out, but your little boy is looking out the window at the wonders of snow. 


HC: Do you make albums with your bands?

JK: We just finished up an EP that we're gonna do a digital release of. We're doing the final mixes before sending it over to the studio. We have some PhilaU students that are graphic designers to help us make our designs for our albums as well.


HC: Do you sing or play an instrument?

JK: In two of my bands I sing and play bass, and in one band I play guitar. 


(Jeffrey Klemens then proceeded to play one of the songs from his band Gavilan, where he sings in Spanish.)


HC: Lastly, do you have a word of advice for college students?

JK: Throw yourself into whatever you decide to make your identity. And don't worry if that doesn't match up with what you see yourself doing, because that changes a lot. But what really pays off in the end is tackling really complex project that have inherent value, and doing them the best you can and seeing them through to the end.