Predictions for BIMS in 2017

by gwilson on Dec.22, 2016, under Uncategorized

DSCN4645As we conclude a very successful 2016, it is time to think forward to the year ahead.  What will it hold?  What innovations we begin?  How will BIMS be different as we move forward?  Below are some predictions for the year ahead based on things in progress right now.

1. More success for BIMS graduates.  We will see more of our BIMS graduates complete their McMurry degrees and move into new fields of study.  At least one will begin in the new Masters of Public Health program at Texas Tech in Abilene.  More than one will begin Physician Assistant school somewhere in Texas.  Others will go on to medical school, physical therapy, dental school, pharmacy, and other programs in Texas and beyond.

2. New opportunities for students.  We will see the beginning of at least two Research Teams – groups of students and faculty working together in research.  Senior students become project managers overseeing the training and work of beginning students.  We will start with a team working in breast cancer research and another working on invasive crab species.  Other teams will be initiated as time and opportunity provide.

3. Honors students will complete interesting research projects.  One will complete a survey of Coronaviruses in bats from this part of the state.  Another will complete a study using metagenomics to determine where local moles originated.  In both cases, molecular techniques are central to the work.

4. More of our BIMS courses will conduct research as the central part of their lab component.  Genetics and Molecular students will do breast cancer research.  Microbiology students will test chemicals created in Organic labs for antibacterial effectiveness.  Students in the courses will contribute to research instead of just doing canned activities like at most colleges.

5. McMurry will get at least one major grant.  There are three multi-million dollar grants being written that would support our science programs.  I predict we will get one or two of them.  They will help transform spaces, equipment, and research opportunities for our faculty and students.

6. We will add at least one new major in the sciences in the year to come.  If this is done, it could be a medically-oriented Human Science degree, or one in Sustainability and Renewable Resources.  Maybe both!

7. We will see record numbers of new and very talented BIMS majors come to campus next fall.

So there you have it – seven predictions for how 2017 will be a banner year at McMurry.  Hope you come here to be a part of it!

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Research Teams Come to McM

by gwilson on Oct.23, 2016, under Uncategorized

IMG_0359For years, the BIMS program and Biology Department have featured an emphasis on st udent research.  Some of our courses feature open-ended investigations as a regular part of the lab experience.  All of our students must either participate in a senior capstone project, do Honors research, or complete an internship.  However, we’ve come to believe the lab projects and senior experiences provide too abbreviated an exposure and too little opportunity to participate in long-term involvement in honing research skills (intellectual and experiential).  So we are starting a new initiative that should change things up a bit!

This spring, two faculty will begin an experiment called Research Teams.  In essence, the approach used in graduate programs to build a team of researchers working together on a common project is going to be instituted at McMurry using undergraduate students.  Each research team enroll students into a research program headed by the faculty member to participate in long-term research.  Our two pioneers are Dr. T.J. Boyle, whose RT will study invasive crab species in the lakes and rivers of west Texas.  The other is Dr. Malaney O’Connell, whose RT will do research on connective tissue and breast cancer using tissue culture of cancer cell lines.  Both will select five or so students from those applying to participate, and work will begin in the spring semester.  Students will receive academic credit each semester they participate, with the level of their responsibilities and depth of their involvement increasing with each subsequent semester.  Students involved will come from all classifications, so it is a way that freshmen can test the waters to see what environmental or medical research is really like.  Research experience such as they receive is a great advantage for a student pursuing graduate or professional education following their years at McMurry.

Expectations are that the number and diversity of Research Teams should grow in Biology and beyond to other departments as we demonstrate this as a way to enrich student experiences in the sciences and to increase/expand the involvement of faculty in ongoing research.  Everyone wins!

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Fantasy Microbiology League

by gwilson on Sep.05, 2016, under Uncategorized

FMBL_LogoWell, a surprise for this year is the first edition of the McMurry Fantasy Microbiology League competition for high school students.  Last spring, I met with two of the specialists at the Region 14 Education Service Center to discuss my lament that there is no regional science fair for the students in the 44 school districts of our area (For those from outside Texas, our state is divided into regions and a service center is provided for each region to facilitate enrichment and support for public education).  In our conversation, we came up with the idea of providing an alternate enrichment opportunity based on a software simulation used for teaching microbiology.  What if we set up a fantasy league of teams composed of high school students who competed to identify simulated bacteria?  What if we came up with some amazing prizes to give to competitors and their teachers/coaches and their schools?  We are proud to announce that this is officially a “go” and teams will be able to sign up later this month to represent their schools and win big prizes.

Intuitive Systems Inc. agreed to provide the software for the competition.  VirtualUnknown(TM) Microbiology (VUMIE) is used in colleges, nursing schools, and even dental and medical programs around the world to provide students with a reasonable substitute for working with bacteria in a wet lab to allow for practice in developing microbiology skills.  Fantasy Microbiology League competitors will get unknown bacteria weekly and will work to submit an ID that is fast, accurate, and efficient. Points are earned for these three premiums and lost when they are not achieved.  Each week, a team plays defense by prohibiting the use of a test of their choosing by their opponent.  And each week, The Commissioner will announce a “Hail Mary” twist that will earn bonus points if successfully completed.  Winners from head-to-head competition will advance to the playoffs along with wildcard teams based on total points earned.  The VUMIE Bowl will be held on McMurry’s campus on February 10, 2017.  Prizes will include scholarships for winners, GoPro cameras/Fitbits and other prizes for final teams and coaches, scientific equipment and the VUMIE trophy for the winning school, and plenty of Swag for all participants.  Thank you sponsors for making this happen!

I tell my students all the time, if your science classes aren’t fun, something’s wrong.  The subject matter is fascinating and exciting and awe-inspiring.  And if we are clever in how we approach it, we can make it more “game” than “work”.  Students in this competition will learn valuable lessons about aseptic technique, critical reasoning in choosing tests and interpreting results, and will see how being careful and thoughtful and precise in their work can lead to big rewards.  But I’ll bet the way they describe it all is “fun”.

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