A DAY IN THE LIFE — College professor/veterinarian
Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series spotlighting various professionals in our community, highlighting the impact of their work. Have an idea for the series? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For Dr. Danielle Kness, the study of biology is about making discoveries, solving mysteries and helping students broaden their minds.
Kness has served as a biology teacher at Marshalltown Community College for three years. She also works as a relief veterinarian on the weekends at various vet clinics in Des Moines.
A native of the eastside of Des Moines, she attended Iowa State University, earning an undergraduate degree in animal ecology and then completed veterinarian school there. As a student, she did internships at various zoos in the Midwest. She spent the summer after vet school studying marine biology in Alaska, observing seals and sea lions. She also lived in Canada for a time.
“I started working in veterinarian clinics when I was 13 years old — walking dogs and cleaning kennels,” she said.
Despite a desire to make a career out of working with animals, doctors advised her against it.
“I’m allergic to animals with fur, especially cats and horses,” she said. “Doctors always said I couldn’t be a vet, and I always wanted to, so I did it anyway — full-time for seven years. But when I was working with animals every single day I had a lot of trouble with my allergies. I had hearing loss and some other issues.”
While employed as a vet in Minnesota, one of her lab techs suggested Kness segue into teaching.
“I taught a class for a local college there and fell in love with it,” she said. “I have a doctorate level degree, so I can teach at the college level without a teaching license, but I do take continuing education classes.”
Before coming to MCC, Kness taught at Des Moines Area Community College.
“I’ve taught at the four-year university level, and for me, I love community college because I get that one-on-one with the students and see them grow and change,” she said. “A lot of them come in here and have their mind set on something, but to see them expand their potential and realize there are all these opportunities has been amazing for me.”
Kness teaches intro to biology to non-biology majors, General Biology I and II, anatomy and physiology and microbiology. In the fall semester, she will also teach a course on animal care and rehabilitation.
“I hated sitting in lectures when I was a student. It was boring. So I try to add other things to my classroom and different teaching and learning styles,” she said. “I’m lucky because I get to do the introductory biology class, so I get to see non-biology majors. Getting them excited about biology is fun. They’ve been my favorite class so far.”
Come early, stay late, is the theme of most school days. Teaching and prepping for morning, afternoon and night classes and labs, attending meetings, ordering supplies and doing specimen inventory keeps her burning the candle at both ends.
In addition, Kness serves as an adviser to the Pair A Docs Club, which is open to pre-med and pre-dental students. She runs the college’s honors program.
“Right now we have 21 honors students. It’s the most we’ve had. Last year we had seven, so that is a big growth,” she said.
Her classroom is home to a slew of creepy crawlers, including bearded dragons, turtles, cockroaches and a frog.
In her spare time, Kness enjoys gardening, photography and traveling throughout the Pacific Northwest. She lives in rural Des Moines with a cadre of animals. She enjoys making trips to Yellowstone National Park to research wolves.
“All my friends think it’s funny that I’m a teacher because I’m not that outgoing and hate talking in front of people. But once you get into teaching, it’s great,” she said.
Kness said she wouldn’t trade her lifestyle, even if she ever won the lottery.
“I’d still come to work everyday. I love my job … I think most people think biology is all about dissecting things and anatomy. But there is so much more: how the brain and immune system work. The first day of my intro to biology class we talk about how science is about unlocking mysteries. You get to figure out how things work and interplay with each other. There’s always some new discovery and different connections we never saw before,” she said.
Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at