Scientist, educator makes biology matter

Nov 2, 2022Neesha Hosein
Generation Park biology lab

From biology major to San Jacinto College educator and a lot in between, Dr. Tyler Olivier brings experience and inspiration to the classroom.




Olivier is the science, technology, engineering, and math department chair at the Generation Park Campus. Starting his San Jac career in 2015, he has taught general biology for science and non-science majors and was part of the honors faculty and service-learning council.

Leading with "GEAUX, Tigers," Olivier gave away his Louisiana roots — Patterson, to be exact. He majored in biology at Louisiana State University and went on to earn a Ph.D. in environmental and evolutionary biology from the University of Louisiana Lafayette.

"At ULL, I studied amphidromous shrimp migrations in the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers," Olivier said. "As a scientist, I'm interested in zoology (inverts) and ecology. As an educator, I advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education and service learning."

Onward to San Jac

Olivier never knew he wanted to be an educator until he began teaching general biology labs at ULL as a teaching assistant. He fell in love with teaching after the first week. From that moment, he aspired to share his passion for biology, and science in general, with everyone.

"San Jac was the perfect place for me," Olivier said. "Since I interviewed, the people I met welcomed me as family. As an institution, the College provided me with an opportunity to grow as an educator and as a leader. As lagniappe, Houston is a four-hour drive from my hometown in south Louisiana, so it's relatively easy for me to get back to a bowl of gumbo or a table full of crawfish."

As a faculty member, the student interaction was his favorite part of the job because "nothing is better than seeing students grow and learn the material during the semester." As a department chair, he enjoys problem-solving and affecting learning and student success at the department and program level.

Fondest San Jac memory

"My most noteworthy experience at San Jac happened when I received a text message from a student in my General Biology II class my first semester," Olivier said. "This student is an African American male, and he was a few weeks away from graduating with his Bachelor of Science in biology. In his text, he told me he appreciated all the help I had given him and that without him seeing me as a professor, he would not have pursued a degree in biology."

That student is now a middle school science teacher — something Olivier finds "extremely rewarding" because he never had a Black science teacher throughout his entire educational journey. For Olivier, being someone students can see themselves in is an exponential reward.

Classroom overview

Olivier tries to grow his students' appreciation for life "from microbes to blue whales." He approaches his students as partners in the learning experience, expecting all parties to grow throughout the course. This way, he feels less like a gatekeeper and more like a "facilitator of learning."

"I continually ask my students to think critically about what is being discussed and to explain the practical application of the knowledge we learn," he said. "As a result, I believe they leave my class with a foundation of skills that can be expanded upon and a working knowledge of general biology."

Outside the biology lab

Olivier loves to watch and play sports, and he likes to read, mostly history and science. He enjoys a wide variety of music and has a talent for memorizing a ton of song lyrics like a "human jukebox." He was once a karaoke DJ.

"My dad once told me change is guaranteed," Olivier said. "This is a simple bit of advice, but it has caused me to appreciate the moments, feelings, and people I experience because our world can be different in an instant. Additionally, it keeps me in a mode of planning and assessing so that when change happens, I can respond accordingly."

Without [a former student] seeing me as a professor, he would not have pursued a degree in biology.
Dr. Tyler Olivier
STEM department chair, on being a role model for Black students
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