Meet our educators: Phil Mixter

Dr. Mixter standing outside on a summer day.

Phil Mixter joined Washington State University more than 25 years ago as an associate professor and he is motivated by his students’ energy, creativity, and eagerness to learn. Dr. Mixter teaches undergraduate immunology and serves as the assistant director for the School of Molecular Biosciences alumni relations. Before WSU, Dr. Mixter completed an undergraduate degree in biochemistry at Oregon State University and a doctorate at the UCLA School of Medicine.

What are you currently teaching and what do you like most about teaching students at WSU?

I just finished teaching undergraduate immunology coupled with the immunology and virology laboratory. These fall-only classes are filled with students in their final stages of undergraduate courses and a few graduate students. Overall, students are really excited to learn more about topics that impact them personally in their health-related career steps.

What is your favorite part about being an educator?

I love teaching WSU undergraduates because they are so curious about the world. I love to hear about the problems they feel are important to solve and new views of how things might change in their futures. I am invigorated by their energy and excitement in learning and understanding complex things for the first time.  I love to watch that lightbulb flicker and then burn strong when they finally understand something that was challenging. I also love watching their becoming, as they move forward over time and take their next steps, whether moving through their undergraduate program or graduating and entering the workforce.

What has been your academic/career path leading up to WSU?

In Pullman, I split my time between the WWAMI regional medical program and the Department of Microbiology. Eventually, I moved to 100% instruction in the School of Molecular Biosciences, with interests in advising and career development. I was a National Science Foundation fellow for a year, which transformed my approach to education. My colleagues across the college have collaborated and aided my development as a science instructor. I continue to find invigorating new ways to engage with students, learn new things myself, and move forward with students. Although I was trained in the immune responses to microbes, I continue to learn more about science communication and STEM career development.

What drew you to WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine?

I chose to stick with trusted colleagues when my unit became part of the School of Molecular Biosciences within the College of Veterinary Medicine. At the same time, the college’s Teaching Academy was taking shape. This drew me in locally and helped me connect regionally and nationally with new teaching colleagues in a most productive way. My exposure to new concepts in education changed dramatically, and I worked with Dr. Steve Hines and others to foster a community of practice focused on instruction. It has been some of the most satisfying parts of my more recent work, and I continue to gain so much from being part of this active community. The college continues to draw me into new things.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

There are so many ways to respond, but I will choose to focus on a new, emerging program that some haven’t heard about. Earlier, Dean Dori Borjesson gave a town hall about the college’s global health programs in Africa and Guatemala. Our faculty, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine students, and other graduate students had prominent roles in research and outreach. I wondered aloud where undergraduates could plug into these areas across the globe and was warmly invited to find new ways for undergraduates to contribute. In collaboration with academic coordinator Kathryn Jackson and mentorship from Allen School Director Tom Kawula, we’re gearing up to take students to Nairobi in May 2023. Coming together rapidly, this undergraduate study abroad program is part of an expanding partnership between WSU and the University of Nairobi. Students will work in college-affiliated research labs analyzing samples used in disease surveillance during the week and explore Kenya during the weekends. It should be a great balance of science immersion and cultural exchange.  I’m hopeful this first-year program will continue to give diverse students transformative undergraduate experiences, solidifying their science identities while providing critical results to support the global health research goals. Students should gain perspective on big health problems that require multi-faceted solutions. I know there will be lifelong memories from the journey as well.