Any basketball lovers out there? If so, you probably are like me and have a love-hate relationship with the NCAA Division I basketball tournament – March Madness. It is a time when anything is possible, any team entering the field has that dream that if they can just string together 6 perfect games they can win a national championship. I was in love with March Madness back in the early 90s, when I chose three of the final four and ultimate champion Arkansas. Contrast that to this year, where two of the teams I pegged for the final four were eliminated in the first game. Like everyone, I try to predict the early upsets, and I actually hit on one – Arkansas-Little Rock defeating Purdue. I had to root for UALR because their coach, Chris Beard, as coach at McMurry not so many years ago.
I think there are some similarities between the highs and lows of March Madness and our BIMS program. Like selection Sunday, where there’s great anticipation about what teams will “go to the dance”, our recruiting season is a time of great anticipation as we await those who place their deposits, sign up for SOAR, and enroll as our majors each summer. And just like the tournament itself, there are those very talented students who stumble and those underdogs who achieve beyond anyone’s expectations. College, after all, is the greatest participation sport you can imagine.
So what are the similarities and differences that make some students succeed and others flame out? Just look at the Cinderella teams in the tournament. They tend to have great coaching, better than average talent, and lots of heart and determination. They are so focused on the tournament that they do not let any distractions or other interests get in their way. And they leave their entire effort out there on the floor. When our students commit every bit of their talent and effort to pursuing their education, they always come away winners.
1. Honors Research. We have several students in various stages of their Honors research. Some are in their infancy – like Payden Dompe’s work snooping down the origin of moles found in our area using genetic analysis of moles found elsewhere. There’s just something crazy about trying to extract DNA from the toes of moles from museum specimens around the country… Then there’s Sophie Southwell’s continuing quest for viral DNA from bat populations. Seems she will have to focus on harvesting bat guano from wild bats instead of using materials held in deep freeze for prolonged periods of time. Some people have all the fun! And then there’s Taylor Russell’s research comparing bacterial diversity found in Winogradsky with that of Benoit columns made using sediment from the same source (Benoit columns are made using diatomaceous earth as a replacement for soils and were invented at McMurry by Dr. Tom Benoit). Her test run of the methods yielded over 170 species from 112 genera, 56 families, and 32 orders. She’s awaiting her results from experiments run in the fall and will get her analysis done in the next few weeks. All this is to say that some interesting things are a-happening!
2. Recognition. McMurry was ranked #8 small college STEM program in the country in a recent review of programs by “bestdegreeprograms.org”. STEM programs include all academic programs related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We were the top rated small college STEM program in Texas (one of only two in the ranking of the top 30 schools). Biomedical Science is mentioned specifically as one of the premier programs. We like that kind of notoriety. Their description of McMurry’s programs starts this way: “McMurry University may not be the most well-known school in Texas, but it is undoubtedly one of the most respected.” The article goes on to cite our perennial ranking as a top school in our category by U.S. News & World Report, and a Top 100 ranking nationally by Washington Monthly. Not bad!
3. On the horizon. We are excited about the return of Environmental Science next fall. The program was hugely successful in its previous iteration at McMurry and promises to rise to that level again very quickly. We are also excited about a grant that is being written this spring and which could bring some tremendous changes to our programs and facilities as early as next fall. And it all starts with great students. We were very excited to participate in Science Saturday last month and this month’s Scholarship Day. It is always fun meeting with future students and their families and starting to build those relationships that will help each major reach higher than their grasp and shine brighter than they thought possible. As usual, a large share of those students in attendance want what BIMS has to offer.
So there you have the latest from the BIMS program at small college superstar McMurry. As much as the big universities would like to think otherwise, sometimes the best surprises come in small packages!
- Science Saturday! January 23rd will feature an open house for the sciences at McMurry. Science Saturday is an opportunity for the community, and in particular regional high school educators and students, to come experience the unique flavor of McMurry’s science programs. There will be hands-on events sponsored by our science faculty and students. Biology will host three sessions – one an exercise is studying population diversity in an ecological setting, another a forensic science activity using conventional and molecular techniques, and a third centered on epidemiological investigation of a mock disease outbreak. In each case, students and other visitors take on the role of scientist to see how knowledge is put into action to solve real-world problems.
- Honors Research! This spring we will have only one Honors student completing Honors research. The student is Taylor Russell, standout basketball player for the Lady War Hawks. Her project is using molecular techniques to investigate whether microbial populations in traditional Winogradsky columns are also supported in diatomaceous earth (DE) columns (now becoming known as Benoit Columns in reference to their discoverer, our own Dr. Tom Benoit). We are eagerly anticipating the results from the epigenetic analysis because it is likely some of the microbes discovered could be members of the new domains of organisms first reported this summer.
- Faculty Research! With the announcement that four of our Biology faculty received KIVA grants and Sam Taylor Research Fellowships, the move will be on to study bats and plant diversity and invasive crab species and mole migration patterns. Students will be given the opportunity to dive in and learn as they conduct research.
- And Speaking of Grants…. The department will be deeply involved in the writing of a major grant that has the potential to transform McMurry sciences. This multi-year, multi-million dollar grant would bring improved spaces and equipment and new opportunities and programs to our current and future students. More on this as we get deeper into 2016!
So there you have it. Lots to be excited about as a War Hawk BIMS student! May this be a great year for us all!