Knight takes personal approach to teaching



Carl Knight teaches three students in his anatomy class during a lab on April 25 in C301.

CARMEN GUZMAN, Editor in Chief

Rubber models of organs and human bodies fill the science lab’s counters. Each model contains a treasure trove of anatomical information.

Anatomy professor Carl Knight points to a diagram containing a kaleidoscope of cellular structures. Students scratch their heads to the unintelligible names of proteins. Others lie down on their hands, half-asleep, like they’ve given up on learning.

Knight looks away from the diagram and asks, “does everyone understand?”

Some students shake their heads, causing Knight to simplify his lecture to clear up confusion. As if Knight cast a spell, his students begin scribbling in their notebooks, suddenly engaged with the lesson.

“If you don’t break your cells down, you’re in trouble,” Knight says, walking away from the board to work individually with each student.

Since the beginning of his 52-year tenure at Eastfield, Knight never changed his one-on-one mentorship approach, saying his students learn best when they’re taught according to their individual needs. He’s inspired several to become medical pioneers in their respective fields.

“My students have done pretty well,” Knight said. “My dentist and doctor are my students.”

Since 1970, Knight has taught the same anatomy and physiology classes at Eastfield. He provides every lesson with ease, a practice perfected by memory.

Knight chooses to have few students. Flexible office hours and lesson plans allow Knight to sit down with each one.

“The big secret is you spend a lot of time with your students and show them how to study,” Knight said.

Knight credits student success to having a teacher to rely on for academic assistance.

Dr. An Lu is one of many students who sat down with Knight when she struggled with his class. She came to Eastfield with a lack of direction and little knowledge of the English language.

Despite the language barrier, Knight often sat down with Lu to help her understand lessons. She later became an award-winning pulmonary and critical care provider at UT Southwestern in Dallas.

“[Knight] helped steer me in the right direction.” Lu said. “Without [Knight], I wouldn’t have the opportunity to be here today.”

Knight assisted Lu with her application and scholarships for medical school. After graduating, Knight helped Lu secure her career by writing a letter of recommendation to UT Southwestern.

“He is a great mentor, and he will always be there for me,” Lu said. “I owe my career to him.”

A major component of Lu’s academic success was being named for a scholarship from the National Science Foundation, financing a full ride through medical school.

The scholarship was part of a $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation, secured through a recommendation letter authored by Knight and his constituents.

Jessica Gonzalez, the lead for Eastfield’s STEM Research Program, manages a science department built and funded by the grant. Science students operate thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment.

“Knight was the vision behind writing the $1.8 million grant,” Gonzalez said. “He was able to set this lab up.”

Gonzalez is one of Knight’s former students. Like Lu, she didn’t know what to study – initially, she considered majoring in dance.

During one of her exams, Gonzalez forgot to get a scantron. Her search led her to Knight’s office, where Knight gave her a scantron and a thought-provoking discussion about discovering her major.

“[Knight] told me about his anatomy class, he told me about his pre-med students, and told me to keep taking classes,” Gonzalez said. “He was the first person that really spoke to me in college.”

After enrolling in Knight’s class, Gonzalez discovered a passion for science and microbiology. Knight often sat down with her and explained various assignments she was initially uninterested in. She later graduated with a science degree.

“He’s mentored several students beyond taking his class, and that’s what makes him so special,” Knight said.

Gonzalez came back to Eastfield after Knight recommended her for a lab position.

After the consolidation into Dallas College, Gonzalez was promoted to the program lead. She initially didn’t imagine herself in such a high position.

“He said to make sure you are changing people’s lives,” Gonzalez said. “I was going to be a doctor, but he convinced me to become a teacher because I realized I could change more lives as one – just like he did for the past 52 years.”

Like his students, Knight frequently hopped between academic options, unable to decide how to advance his career.

“I was going to be a veterinarian. I started when I was 11 – I raised parakeets,” Knight said. “I went to MSU to become one and that didn’t work out for me.”

Knight started his teaching career in 1970 as an anatomy professor at Michigan State University and working as anatomy professor. He spent part of his career publishing research on poultry and avian science.

That same year, former Eastfield Chancellor Jan LeCroy noticed Knight’s work and invited him to teach at the newly opened Eastfield in Mesquite.

“We talked about what the dream was here – the American dream,” Knight said. “[LeCroy] said, ‘you can either go do your research work, or come down to Eastfield and make a difference.’ I chose to make a difference.”

Fast forward to 2022 and Knight doesn’t regret walking away from his high-paying career at MSU to inspire new academic trailblazers.

Radiologic sciences major Maturin Ndukong is the top student in Knight’s anatomy class. He passes notoriously difficult exams with near-perfect scores.

“[Knight] is very patient with students,” Ndukong said. “He takes his time with [class]. And if you don’t know it, he’ll make sure to repeat himself until you get it.”

The professor routinely encourages Ndukong to try his best, even him to consider switching his major to general medicine.

“I owe my success to [Knight] being the first person to teach me, and then to myself,” Ndukong said.

Knight’s contact list is filled with the names of his former and current students. Most students Knight has known for years, even decades, update him on their latest successes.

“You want your kids to be successful,” Knight said, showing a portrait featuring him and his co-authors for the National Science Foundation grant.

The walls of Knight’s office are filled with old photos, awards and certificates – so much that Knight is running out of space to display the newest monument to his influence. His bookshelves are equally full, and he’s resorted to stacking research papers on his desk.

“[Students] need someone to tell them they’re smart,” Knight said, motioning to a wall of photos featuring him with students, faculty and Dallas College administration. “Someone needs to help them get self-confidence and you can do that as a teacher. Once they have pride, they take off.”