In the 1960s, when Bigbee was a kid in Oakland, Calif., the world was amid what he called an era of discovery. Scientists had identified the double helix, and the United States and Russia were engaged in a space race.
He first got hooked on biology by his eighth grade teacher, Mr. Joseph. Then his high school anatomy and physiology teacher, Mr. Gordon, helped point Bigbee in the direction of the study of the human body. His best teachers, Bigbee said, bounded into the room with energy for the day’s lecture.
“That rivets this stuff in your head,” Bigbee said.
Mr. Gordon was an alumnus of Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., and he spoke highly of his time there. So when it came time to choose a college, Bigbee applied there and was accepted. Even though Bigbee had never seen its campus with his own eyes, he enrolled because of Mr. Gordon’s endorsement.
A recommendation a few years later led him to VCU, too. He was earning his PhD in neuroscience at Stanford when he met a professor from VCU who recommended he go east for his postdoctoral fellowship.
Bigbee had never been to Virginia, but in 1982, he said yes to VCU. He packed his little Toyota Tercel with as many possessions as he could squeeze and drove it across the country to Richmond. He never left. At VCU, he met his wife, Carmen Sato-Bigbee, and the two were married in 1990.