A fascination for science and anatomy started at a young age for Tara Womack, Central Wyoming College’s biology instructor. Her curiosity allowed her to explore anatomy when her father returned with game from his hunting or fishing trips.
“Even as a young girl, I was curious about guts,” she said. “When my dad returned from a hunting or fishing trip, I would poke the eyeballs or air sac, or I’d ask him to cut open the stomach.”
For Womack, this sense of curiosity and love for science ultimately turned into a career as an instructor of anatomy, physiology, cadaver anatomy and human biology. A Wyoming native and CWC alumna herself, Womack said she only briefly lived out of state while she attended the University of Utah for one year of her undergraduate education.
“It was while living in Salt Lake City that I quickly realized how much I appreciated small town living,” she said. “I never would have said that in high school.”
Womack transferred to the University of Wyoming and completed her Bachelor of Science degree in biology in 1995. At both universities, her education was characterized by remarkable field experiences.
“As an undergraduate student I had some amazing opportunities,” she said. “I interned with the Fremont County Coroner’s office and observed autopsies.”
While at the U of U, she also analyzed placentas and extracted DNA alongside an OBGYN who was studying pre-eclampsia, a complication during pregnancy. Womack also worked in the research lab during her graduate studies at UW. She had a second job as a teaching assistant in the general biology lab, which proved even more fortuitous.
“I discovered I had a knack for teaching,” she said.
Unbeknownst to many, Womack actually applied for medical school after graduating with a master’s degree in zoology and physiology in 1997.
“I interviewed at the University of Washington in Seattle when I was 8-1/2 months pregnant with my first child,” she said. Though Womack was waitlisted, she was offered a spot in the program two weeks after she accepted a job teaching at Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington.
“They had a spot for me so it was time to make a decision,” Womack said. “I decided to pursue teaching and have never regretted it.”
After two years at EWC, Womack returned to CWC–this time as an instructor.
“I earned my associate in biology from CWC,” Womack said. “I considered Riverton home, so when the opportunity to teach at CWC presented itself, I jumped at it.”
Womack worked as an adjunct instructor teaching math, range management, and fitness walking during the 2000-01 academic year. She applied for the full-time biology position when it opened in 2002.
Now, in her twentieth year of teaching at CWC, Womack loves fostering a passion for lifelong learning in her students.
Brad Chadsey is one of Womack’s current students who feels like Womack has a particular knack for helping students comprehend difficult concepts.
“Tara makes taking a challenging subject like anatomy or physiology feel approachable,” Chadsey said. “She approaches students like adults and creates a space where you feel comfortable to ask questions.”
For Chadsey, Womack’s dedication to the content of her course is particularly valuable as he pursues a new pathway.
“As a returning student, in the process of starting a new career, it was a great confidence boost to have an engaged professor who feels invested in the material,” Chadsey said. “I feel confident going into the nursing program that I have a good foundation of understanding.”
Womack’s teaching style has proven effective for learners of all ages. Her current student, Adri Bush said anatomy has been her favorite course so far.
“Tara is an amazing instructor to all her students,” Bush said. “I was the youngest in the class and she always made sure I knew to go to her for help if I needed it.”
Chadsey and Bush’s feelings are echoed by student and lab assistant, Cale Hinkle, who admires how personable Womack is as an instructor.
“I remember her instructing while rocking another student’s baby in her arms, so that the mother could focus on learning,” Hinkle said. “In another instance–upon learning that one of her students had never been afforded the chance to have cake on his birthday–she went out of her way to bake cupcakes for him and the rest of our class.”
Hinkle said this level of investment in students helps them navigate the complicated content of her courses and that Womack’s enthusiasm for her discipline inspired him to pursue a career in medicine.
“While her classes maintain a friendly and inclusive environment, they are also balanced by professionalism and rooted in rigorous coursework,” he said. “I believe strongly that anyone who takes these classes and learns the material will have a solid foundation to build on as they move forward.”