Entering Biology and Human Anatomy teacher Andy Rundquist’s room is a bit like stepping inside a box of crayons, one that sat out too long in the sun, the waxy hues of its slightly melted crayolas mingling in a mildly overwhelming but nonetheless bright and cheerful way.
Nearly every single one of the rectangular cinder blocks that make up Rundquist’s classroom has a role in that melted-crayon look. University of Michigan field hockey, Colgate crew, USC Trojans, University of Pennsylvania, Fresno State equestrian: each brick tells the story of a student who, at some point in their high school career, spent September to June learning from Rundquist.
“We started in 1999,” Rundquist explained about the bricks. “The first brick that was painted was the Mckibben-Ippsen brick right there, the Michigan brick. I just had them do it because it was something I’d wanted to do a long time before that. So they volunteered to do it just see how it would turn out, and it looked great.”
Looking around at the rest of the painted bricks, Rundquist points out the college logos painted on narrow bricks that border the ceiling, the names painted beneath cabinets and on back walls.
“A lot of the bricks from early are up in the front in these prime spots, and now, even though the bricks that they’re turning out are equally good, kids are being relegated to the more obscure parts of the room,” Rundquist laughs. “They have to be a little bit more inventive in how they choose to paint their bricks because they’re two half bricks together, or it’s tucked under something and it’s hard to get a projector to. But bless their hearts, they’re persistent and they figure it out.”
When taken as a whole, the bricks tell the story of Rundquist himself, who has taught natural sciences in his crayon-box FHC classroom since 1986. They are the chronicle of 29 years of influence on FHC, a reflection of the time his students have spent in room 235, and a portrait of countless lives lived with the influence Andy Rundquist affecting them.
41 years after beginning his teaching career in 1974 and 29 years after coming to FHC in 1986, Rundquist will watch his final group of students paint their bricks this year. 2014-2015 marks Rundquist’s last school year teaching: he will be retiring when the year draws to a close on June 10.
“It’s very bittersweet,” Rundquist said of his decision to retire. “I know I can’t [teach] forever, and I know that whatever year I choose to do it, it’s going to be difficult. But … I still have a lot of opportunities to do different things. It’s just a good time to try something new.
After a long career spent interacting with high schoolers every day, Rundquist says that he will miss the students and the energy they bring the classroom more than anything else about his job. His distinctively humorous and fun-loving teaching style has won him a widespread fanbase in the form of students who are now scattered around the country in a variety of places and careers.
“[My teaching style] is relaxed and it’s interactive,” Rundquist said. “I try to use good humor. I tease kids a lot. I’ve done a lot of teasing over the years, but I’ve received in kind so it all works out in the end. I think the balance is pretty even.”
Rundquist’s students have been profoundly affected by their time in Room 235. As a testament to the enjoyable learning environment he creates and the unique, individual attention he tries to pay to each student, Rundquist receives overwhelmingly positive reviews from nearly all those who have had him as a teacher.
“He taught me how to love science this year in HAP,” said junior Ana Wassilak. “That’s been so cool.”
2014 FHC graduate and current Massachusetts Institute of Technology student Emily D’Amato remembers the confidence that Rundquist gave her during her time in AP Biology. After observing her enthusiasm for the Drosophila lab during the class’s genetics unit, Rundquist allowed D’Amato a broad range of independence in her experiments and use of lab equipment. The faith that Rundquist had in her had a particularly large impact on D’Amato.
“When I think about all the things that led me to where I am today (a computational biology student at MIT), that moment [when Mr. Rundquist told me I could experiment freely in the lab] is always at the forefront of my mind. I had never before been trusted like that. I know I was just growing E. coli in petri dishes, but it was the first time I had been able to try science in a research-like way,” D’Amato said. “Cheesy though this may be, I see that as the first moment anyone really believed in me as a scientist. I cannot express impact that made on me at the time, or the effect it still has on me now.”
Rundquist’s interactive and relaxed style of instruction is not an accident. He makes a deliberate effort to engage all his students by building personal connections with them, especially those who may not be excited about his subject matter.
“I try to talk to all my kids, just have conversations with them and make sure that they know that I’m paying attention to their presence, that I know that they’re there and even if they might not be connected to the subject, they’re really important,” Rundquist said.
2015 graduate Alex Girgis, who will attend the University of Michigan in the fall, took note of Rundquist’s unique teaching style that allows him to connect with the broad spectrum of students who pass through the doors of his classroom each year.
“Mr. Rundquist is a very knowledgeable teacher who has a great understanding of the essence of biology, but is also really humble at the same time. He has a ridiculous sense of humor that’s embedded into everything we do,” Girgis said. “Biology class itself is a lot of raw studying and repetition, and it has the potential to be boring, but Mr. Rundquist makes students want to be there and do well with his humor and passion for the subject.”
While many students point to specific moments and memories to illustrate their experience as a student of his, Rundquist himself does not pin down specific moments that define his career.
“It’s not these giant moments that stand out,” Rundquist said. “It’s the combination of the little ones that create impressions. There have been some pretty remarkable things that have happened in here, but … it’s that whole grouping of fun experiences that you have in the classroom and in the hallways and with other teachers [that you remember.]”
Rundquist’s legacy goes far beyond the molecular biology and human anatomy lessons that he has been teaching since 1974. It even transcends the life lessons about hard work and openness to opportunities that a year of AP Biology or months of cat dissections can impart to students. According to many students, his most indelible impact lies in the example of his kind humor and fun-loving passion for his subject and his students.
“When I think about who I want to be, I don’t think about science,” D’Amato said. “I think of Mr. Rundquist’s heartfelt way of talking and the quiet compassion of his actions, and I simply hope to one day be as kind as him. It won’t happen. But I’ll keep trying.”