By Vanessa Navarro and Yami Zuniga
There are those who believe that science and religion are mutually exclusive. Dr. Winston McCowan is not one of those people.
During the workweek, McCowan spends his days in pursuit of science. More specifically, he teaches biology and anatomy and physiology to the next generation of scientists and nurses at Northeast Texas Community College. On the weekends, he trades in his lab coat for a suit and tie and steps into the very different role of pastor and spiritual leader for three congregations within the area.
McCowan, who was the first African American hired by the college when it opened in 1985, has spent 31 of his 44 years teaching at NTCC. Before coming to Northeast, McCowan taught at Trinity Valley College in Henderson County.
The professor, who has been in the ministry for close to 35 years, serves as a full time pastor at the United Methodist Church in Jefferson and also preaches sermons on alternating Sundays to the congregations at Logan Chapel and Louis Chapel churches, also located in the Jefferson area.
While it’s hard to imagine balancing being a professor and preaching, McCowan has always been able to devote his time and efforts to both.
“A teacher is a skill, it’s a trait and preaching is a calling,” he said.
And despite the fact that he instructs in the field of science, McCowan’s strong Christian beliefs have never interfered with his teaching. The question that may be running around in everyone’s minds, is what was it about the field of biology that appealed to a man with such strong religious views?
“I was curious about science as a child,” McCowan said. “I always wanted to know how something worked and why. Therefore, I became interested in science.”
Despite what some may see as a contrast between biology and religion, facts and beliefs, McCowan never really let any obstacles as a student stop him from becoming an educator. As a matter of fact, McCowan said he believes that religion and education are equally important to a person’s life.
“Once a minister came out, one of my students was his parishioner, and had told him about my class. He was confused because he had always taught that a female had more ribs than a male. The Bible says that God took a rib from Adam and made Eve. I ended up giving him a lesson on theology and anatomy,” he said.
McCowan acknowledged that he sometimes uses his knowledge of science in his sermons. He said there is a connection between the two that explains why certain things are the way they are.
“Always, there are a lot of times I reference back in sermons,” he said. “In one sermon, I preached about the anatomy of a Christian, referencing back to a topic called “Your Body, God’s Temple” that defines the differences of the two.”
Northeast Mathematics Professor Dr. Paula Wilhite has grown to know McCowan over the past 31 years. The two are part of an elite group known as the “A-Team,” the first employees hired by Northeast in 1985.
Wilhite said despite McCowan playing double duty, his dedication to both professions show how special he is. “Dr. McCowan is a wonderful, engaging role model who is completely devoted to his students, ministry and family.” Wilhite said.
When he is not at church giving a sermon, the professor can be found in his classroom daily teaching students about living organisms and other forms of life. Each year he finds the motivation to share his knowledge with a new set of students.
“I like to see them learn and become invested in the subject,” McCowan said. “Sometimes I keep up with the student even when they’re not in my class anymore to make sure they’re on the right path and to see them graduate. I like to see them get jobs and succeed.”
With multiple generations of students coming and going, McCowan recalled a time when the student population consisted of a large group of non-traditional students.
Today the average number of younger and full-time students has increased dramatically. A change that has not gone unnoticed by the longtime teacher. He said, “You get a younger group” as time goes by.
McCowan been married to his wife, LaWanda, for 47 years now, has eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild. It’s not too surprising that all three of McCowan’s children have pursued careers in education. His oldest daughter is the athletic coordinator at Desoto High School and teaches health and coaches. His middle daughter is the curriculum coordinator for Garland Independent School District and actually taught at NTCC for a while. His son, who is the youngest, is a principal at Northwest in Forth Worth.
McCowan’s love for his expanding family is all too evident as he speaks about their achievements in their educational careers. The role of an educator is to prepare students for the real world. McCowan takes his profession seriously and understands the impact and difference his teaching has made on several of his former students.
He said even as he nears the half-century mark as an educator, he still enjoys what he does. He plans to continue doing his part to make a difference in the lives of the students on the Northeast campus.
“I hope I’ve made a difference in some of my former and present students’ lives,” he said. “I get joy when a student accomplishes a goal they tell me they want to achieve,” McCowan said.
“I thought his class would be hard. But he made it fun. He kind of made me want to change my major,” former Microbiology student Courtney Higgins said.
McCowan’s impact is not only evident to his student but his fellow colleagues as well. Dr. Mary Hearron, professor of biology and chemistry at Northeast, first met McCowan when she was hired as an adjunct. Hearron said what she remembers most about those early days was his smiling face.
“The year was 1985 and we were all so excited to be able to participate in the start-up of a new community college,” Hearron said. “Throughout the years, Dr. McCowan has never lost that smile and the positive attitude that he conveys to all of us and most importantly, to the many, many hundreds of students he has impacted. He’s more than a professor, he’s a true teacher in the highest sense of the word.”
Despite the fact that it is small in size, Northeast has a diverse group of students from all over the world. McCowan said that every student, no matter his or her ethnicity or cultural background, deserves an education.
“When you focus on minorities, whether or not you consider yourself to be part of one, it is extremely important that we think of all people to be productive in our community,” McCowan said. “Every single one of them must have an education.”
Since McCowan stepped onto the Northeast campus back in 1985, he has become an integral part of the college community, moving others to success with his distinctive style of teaching.
“Dr. McCowan has been like a “rock of Gibraltar” here at the college,” said Northeast Vice President of Instruction Dr. Ron Clinton. “Not only because he was one of the original faculty members back in 1985 when the college first opened, but also because his wisdom, humor and love of students has been an inspiration to us all. He’s looked up to by faculty and students alike.”