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Science Profile: Brad Pendley '87 Attends Med School to Become a Better Chemistry Professor

posted on 05/17/2011

by Mary Ellen Collins

Bradford Pendley graduated from Eckerd in 1987 with a B.S., Honors, in Chemistry. After teaching Chemistry at Rhodes College for 15 years, he transitioned to a new career as an internal medicine specialist. Dr. Pendley has a temporary private practice in Memphis, Tennessee, but expects to return to the front of the classroom.

Brad Pendley '87, who calls himself a "chemist who happens to be a physician," went to medical school in order to be a better chemistry professor. His passion for science and learning started early.

"I was the kind of child who had butterflies, snakes, birds, a turtle and a rock collection. I was reading from a very young age, and I memorized these books on reptiles and amphibians and where they lived, so I could identify them." He also loved rockets and space travel, and thought he would like to be an astronaut.

But his enjoyment of a high school chemistry class prompted a change in direction and the decision to study science and engineering at St. Petersburg Junior College. He juggled his studies with the responsibilities of being a new husband and father and a full-time medical records clerk at All Children's Hospital. A post-graduation job at Tampa Bay Quality Snack Foods provided his entre into industrial chemistry, but he knew his education wasn't finished.

"I really wanted to get my bachelor's degree in chemistry, but I didn't consider Eckerd because I thought ? erroneously ? that they only offered a bachelor of arts." His boss from All Children's, Lou Alarcon, was working in Eckerd's Registrar's office and encouraged Pendley to visit the school. He did and although he enjoyed talking with Reggie Hudson and Alan Soli, he did not think Eckerd was within his reach financially. A generous financial aid package proved otherwise, and he spent the next two years majoring in chemistry.

"Being at a strong liberal arts school provided me with the intellectual engagement and encouragement to be an independent learner," he says. And although he intended to work in industry, his professors' passion opened his eyes to the rewards of teaching. In addition to chemistry faculty members, he also has very positive memories of founding faculty members Irving "Iggy" Foster and Ken Keaton. "They were role models. I got to see how you can really use your talent to help young, energetic people blossom and learn."

While completing a Ph.D. in chemistry at Cornell, he solidified his plans to teach. "There was pressure on me to go and be a research professor at other institutions, but because of my experience at Eckerd, I wanted to influence young minds and inspire people to go into the area that I loved."

He taught chemistry at Rhodes College for twelve years, winning awards for outstanding teaching. A sabbatical and an adjunct appointment in biomedical engineering at the University of Memphis led to an interest in translating his knowledge of chemistry into practical solutions and sharing that information with his students.

"I realized that my ability to do translational research in medicine was limited by my lack of knowledge in medicine," he says. "Most Ph.D.'s don't have an immersive experience on the clinical side. They understand theory, but not the practical applications. If I wanted to 'do it right' and be the best teacher I could be, I had to be able to go back and forth across disciplines."

For Pendley, doing it right meant enrolling in the University of Tennessee College of Medicine. After completing an internal medicine residency last year, he is now temporarily in private practice. Remarried to a woman who is finishing her neurology residency, he will head back to the classroom after she completes a yearlong fellowship.

"I want to teach and share what I have learned. I am interested in integrating chemistry, physics, math, and biology for undergraduates who have an interest in a medical field. I think it's an enormous, value-added component for a teacher to bring those connectivities to their students. If you want someone to learn concepts, you have to give them a framework on which to put those concepts." Pendley adds that he hopes Eckerd's new Center for Molecular and Life Sciences will facilitate this type of cross-disciplinary integration.

The "chemist who happens to be a physician" is also the epitome of a great educator. Just as his Eckerd professors inspired him, Pendley's enthusiasm and commitment will undoubtedly ignite a passion among a new generation of lifelong learners who dream of being scientists, clinicians, teachers or any combination of the three.

This feature is the fourteenth in a series of profiles of Eckerd alumni and friends who embody the emphasis of the Sciences at Eckerd College. Learn more about the Many Experiences, One Spirit: The Campaign for Eckerd College and the Center for Molecular and Life Sciences, a Campaign priority.

Read Previous Science Profiles:
Aaron O'Connell '05
Jeffrey Ackley '08
Marion Marshall White '74
Jane A. Petro '68
Olester Benson '74
Rebecca Helm '07
Michael Depledge
Quinton Zondervan '92 and Vincent Coljee '90
Carlos Barbas '85
Paul Cheney '69
Harry Johns '90
Patrick Griffin
Jeffrey Dodge '84

Photo courtesy of chemistrypictures.org

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