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The Hidden Talent of Dr. Neil Aschliman

How well do you Dr. Neil Aschliman? Many of you may know him as an enthusiastic and beloved biology professor. Some of you may know him as a friend, a colleague, or just a friendly face on the sidewalks of St. Ambrose.

As chair of the Biology department, Aschliman teaches courses in human anatomy and physiology, vertebrae biology, biodiversity, and biological literature. But outside of the classroom, he is rather a profound artist!  Aschliman has been drawing since he was a little kid. When he was in elementary school, he filled his desk with monster drawings. That passion only grew throughout high school, college, and well into his adult years. His interests draw from his area of study: biology and living things, but he also draws horror and gore artwork. 

He wrote and illustrated his own textbook for Biology 201: Diversity of Living Systems. This book was a sabbatical project in the spring of 2019.

“It’s a free PDF for all students, and they save around $150 right there. I wrote all the text, and all the graphics are either drawn and made by me or they’re Creative Commons licensed photos and graphics from other sources. It’s been used in part at a few other schools like University of Maine at Machias, Broward College in Florida, and a high school in Hawaii,” Aschliman said. 

Aschliman explained that this course is outdated at other universities, and his textbook was an attempt to fill that gap. 

“This textbook does not reflect 1960s views of classification which is still in a lot of texts updated in just the last 10 years. This is cutting edge stuff, and it’s an accessible text for 200 level courses that ultimately is free to all students. It gave me a chance to not only write about a lot of fun things, but also draw some fun pictures,” Aschliman said. 

In college, he was caught between pursuing art or biology, but ultimately chose the latter. 

“I went to Texas A&M because I split the difference there. I started in science, but they also had a really good art program called Viz Program that was kinda a fast track to PixArt. If the science didn’t work out, then I was gonna switch over, but I got hooked on the science my very first semester doing research on stingrays, and it took,” Aschliman said. 

Not only has Aschliman written and illustrated his biology textbook, but he has drawn a series of spooky prints. He has been doing this as a hobby ever since choosing the path of biology as a career. 

“I worked with a guy in DC for a while and did his book covers and CD covers. And when my brother started his book series, I moved onto that. The art program here has been super supportive, and I participated in the moving pictures portfolio exchange a couple of years ago,” Aschliman said. 

Aschliman explained that with the daily nuances of life, art provides him with a getaway. 

“It’s just a fun escape. Especially, as someone who in my daily life is very scientifically minded, rational, and pragmatic. This is kind of the opposite with ghosts and monsters and what ifs,” Aschliman said. 

He stresses the importance of not only pursuing your main passions in life but also your hobbies and interests.

“It’s important to continue throughout life working on developing your other interests, and it’s a place like Ambrose that helps you identify and cultivate those early. So, not just going to a scientific trade school, but then starting to think more about art and theology. Just get to know our really great faculty and staff. It’s one of my favorite things about working at Ambrose is just the communities you build with people in very different disciplines,” Aschliman said. 

Check out his website here.