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K. Joy Karnas
Professor/Director of the Honors Program


B.S., College of William and Mary
M.S., College of William and Mary
Ph.D., University of Arizona

Research Interests

Dr. Karnas is passionate about engaging students in the process of research. She brings novel explorations into her laboratory courses in order to challenge students to think like a scientist, asking real research questions, designing their own protocols, analyzing actual data sets, and developing professional presentations of their work. She has collaborated with other members of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science to develop a lab manual that outlines these types of research experiences, encouraging other faculty to use real research to enhance their teaching laboratories. Her own research interests are focused on gene expression, examining genetic alterations that lead to triclosan resistance in bacteria and the use of epigenetics in identifying bodily fluids in crime scene analysis. She and her students have presented data related to these projects at meetings of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science (PAS), American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and The American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB).

Career Highlights

K. Joy Karnas, Ph.D. is a molecular biologist who has taught upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses at Cedar Crest College since 2001. She served as Director of the Genetic Engineering Program for twelve years before stepping into the role of Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences for a three-year term.  She is currently the Director of the college’s Honors Program, working closely with high-achieving students from the entire campus as they move through the program and develop their capstone research project. Outside of the college, she has several professional affiliations, including her role as co-chair of the Da Vinci Science Center’s WISE Executive Advisory Council and her 10+ years as Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Pocono Environmental Education Center.  She has been affiliated with the Pennsylvania Academy of Science (PAS) since 2007, initially serving multiple terms as the Recording Secretary for the Board before stepping into the role of President of the Academy (2014-2016). She currently represents PAS at the National Association of the Academy of Sciences. 


“My students inspire me. They are the reason that I am who I am, and the motivation for me to do what I do. If I didn’t have such incredible students who truly appreciate the effort that I put into my teaching, I don’t think I would feel as passionate about my teaching and scholarship. Nothing inspires me more than learning that one of my students has achieved more than they thought possible, and words cannot express how much I value letters from alumnae that praise the genetic engineering program and the courses they took at Cedar Crest College.”

On Becoming a Teacher

“In my first true teaching experience (beyond simply serving as a teaching assistant and running college biology labs), I discovered my talent for breaking complex concepts down into bite-sized bits that students could comprehend. I have a knack for developing analogies to help students visualize exactly what they are trying to learn. I describe biological concepts in simple, everyday terms, creating a parallel that is easier for novices to grasp. I love teaching the details of molecular genetics-introducing upper-level college students to the intricate world of gene expression-but also enjoy outreach activities that connect me with elementary school classrooms. I am passionate about student centered learning and incorporate classroom discussions, inquiry-based learning, and laboratory activities into my teaching as much as possible. Every time I step into a classroom, my connection with the students helps me rediscover why I love this job.”