BIO 54!

Welcome to your liquid syllabus!

This site is provided as a resource to prepare you for a successful start to our fully online synchronous course. It’s not intended to be a comprehensive syllabus – you’ll find that hyperlinked below. These are just the highlights.

Bio 54 – Human Understanding Fall 2023

 First Day of Class: August 21, 2023

16 Week Course with Dr. Mary Poffenroth (She/Her)
An Asynchronous, No Zoom Online Course

Fall 2023 Syllabus

Contact  mary.poffenroth@sjsu.edu

Confused about how to add with a permission number/add code?  Click here!

Watch a greeting from Ins. Poffenroth

“There is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Amanda Gorman, Author of The Hill We Climb

What You Need to Know

How Our Course Operates

We will have weekly video updates posted to your announcements in Canvas, which are part of the required weekly work of the course. Biology 54 at San Jose State University is a 100% online course and is not self-paced (i.e. you will have weekly deadlines).

Our course is asynchronous, meaning that we do not have any real-time meetings, and there are no zoom sessions to attend for lectures. You will not see the course appear on your Canvas page until the official first day of class.

Biology 54 will keep you engaged each and every week with readings, videos, discussions, and activities. Please note there are no late assignments or makeup work allowed (since you always have at least a week to submit anytime), so it is important you get the assignments submitted before their weekly deadlines.

How to Access Canvas

Week 1 Path to Success

  1. Sign into Canvas on our first day   https://sjsu.instructure.com/
  2. Review our full syllabus 
  3. Complete our welcome module, Module 0, no later than the due date listed in Canvas

Required Materials

Both these books are free through the San Jose Public Library.

You will need a Free Library Account if you don’t have one already.

We will read both of these books in their entirety.

1 of 2: Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change by George Marshall. ISBN: 9781632861023. eBook and hard copy available for free at San Jose Public Library.

2 of 2: Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown ISBN: 0399592555. eBook, audiobook, and hard copy available for free at San Jose Public Library.



  1. Email  mary.poffenroth@sjsu.edu or Canvas message 
  2. I prefer to be addressed as Instructor Poffenroth and use She/Her pronouns 
  3. I respond to email Monday through Friday, except holidays
  4. Expect a response within 24 hours Monday through Friday and no later than 48 hours. 
  5. More questions? Check out our Q&A Discussion group in Canvas  HERE
Picture of Dr. Mary Poffenroth

More… About Me

Dr. Mary Poffenroth

It’s been over 20 years since I first began my science career at NASA, spending the last 14 years as STEM faculty. With innovation and engagement my top priorities, I’ve been able to bring science out of the academy and into the hands of people across the world ready to use evidence based information to transform their lives through keynote talks and immersive workshops. I’ve done public talks on such stages as TEDx London, Inbound, and SXSW and my work has been featured in legacy media outlets such as Time magazine, Forbes, Science, Entrepreneur, and National Geographic. 

I have personally taught nearly 20,000 adults both in person and online since 2007 and am the author of Write Present Create: Science Communication for Undergraduates. Some of my proudest accomplishments include being a first generation college student that would go on to become a Salzburg Global Fellow, being able to graduate from Imperial College London to round out my three masters degrees (biology, psychology, science communications). 

IMy research focuses on the intersection of non-clinical fear mastery and innovation for personal/organizational growth. Currently, I am writing a book for Hachette that will be published globally in 2023 called The Courageous Mind.

My Teaching Philosophy

BIO 54, our class, is a community.

You are not in this alone. To be a successful community, each member must be regularly show up, be curious, be willing to lean into discomfort (ah! Scary!), have a positive attitude, and a willingness to help one another.

Each member of this community is different and those differences will strengthen your learning by yielding unique insights drawn from diverse experiences. We acknowledge the tremendous amount of expertise in our community and encourage you to support and help one another as challenges and questions are shared.

Moving outside of your comfort zone is incredibly difficult sometimes, but necessary to learn and grow. Keep in mind that when you feel struggle, it is a sign that you are learning. We will celebrate that feeling. When mistakes happen (and they will!), we will recognize them as learning moments that contribute to our growth.

I am so excited to work alongside you! Welcome to BIO 54!

Mary Poffenroth | The Myth of Fearlessness | TEDx
Picture of students talking in class

My Advice for Success

  • Sign into Canvas at least two days a week, one of those should be a Monday for our updates
  • Put deadlines in your planner/calendar
  • Use a speech to text tool, this can help you with your writing and reading of instructions. My favorite is Spechify and VoiceDream
  • Know you’re not alone. Reach out sooner than later…we’re all human here.
Picture of students talking in class

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