Well, 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”.
As we plan for the upcoming 2016-17 academic year, we find ourselves in that exciting time of welcoming our new students into the fold. They will not start classes until late August, but right now it is time for them to SOAR!
Summer Orientation And Registration brings students to campus to meet advisors, pick their classes, and tend to all of the student life necessities associated with starting college at McMurry. No matter how many times our faculty have been part of SOARs, there is always something special about getting to know our bright, excited incoming freshmen. And it seems like there is always some new program available for our students. This year is no different, with new initiatives aimed at helping our freshmen not only survive, but thrive! And McMurry will be adding a faculty member to strengthen the BIMS program – Dr. Malaney Lopez-O’Connell, graduate of UTMB and biotechnology guru. Can’t wait to see what is in store for her!
McMurry’s BIMS program is one of the campus leaders, a large program with students who rank among the brightest and most driven on campus. That should not surprise anyone, as our students often want to be forensic scientists, doctors, dentists, and medical researchers.
Three SOARs are planned at this time: June 10-11, June 24-25, and July 29-30. There is still time for you to come join us! Call 325-793-4700 and see how you can claim your seat in the Class of 2020!
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!