Charleston Southern Universitys 2014 recipient of the Excellence in Teaching award, Dr. Todd Heldreth, describes himself as quiet and shy; being the center of attention makes him uncomfortable. However, there is no escaping the high esteem with which both students and faculty colleagues regard him and the accolades that have followed.
One of those outdoor kids who enjoyed all things of nature, Dr. Heldreth lists zoologist Marlin Perkins of the popular 1960s-70s television program, Wild Kingdom, as one of his earliest influences. When he came to the realization that there were very few Wild Kingdom type job opportunities available, he began to think about alternatives. He earned a Biology degree from Emory and Henry College in Virginia and went on to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Virginia Tech. He practiced veterinary medicine for 20 years.
As a solo practitioner, Dr. Heldreth reached a point in his veterinary practice where he was burned out, as he said, from caring too much. He suffered along with each pet owner as they lost their aging or ill four-legged family members, hundreds of times - losing a piece of himself each time. He started teaching evening classes for Trident Technical College while maintaining his practice and found that he really enjoyed teaching. In 2007, Dr. Rebecca Hanckel in CSUs Chemistry Department encouraged him to contact long-time Biology Professor and Department Chair, Dr. Jim Barrier about possibilities at CSU; she even hand-delivered his application. There was an opening teaching Physiology, and the rest is history. He names professors Barrier and Best both legends at CSU as his teaching role models, but he also notes that he has been mostly allowed to do my own thing and it seems to work out. The students Dr. Heldreth teaches are in Pre-Nursing and Wildlife Biology, and he says that the majority are highly motivated. He believes he connects with students because his clinical background helps him explain the relevance of the subjects he teaches the whys. An empty-nester, the father of two daughters who are no longer living at home, he has been gratified to see the number of female students enrolled in his courses.
When not in the classroom, Dr. Heldreth loves being out in nature perhaps hiking or taking walks on the beaches and finding fossils. He serves as a consultant and volunteer for the Animal Forest at Charles Towne Landing. He also volunteers veterinary services at the Dorchester County SPCA. He likes to read, particularly political thrillers, such as those by the late Tom Clancy. When asked what might surprise his students, he mentioned that he met his wife on a blind date, and they have now been married 30 years. One of the greatest joys of teaching, he says, is the relationships that get established, particularly with those students who keep in touch even long after they graduate.
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