We are in the countdown stage of an important launch in McMurry Biology circles. Beginning Friday, September 5th, Biology will participate in a new initiative to build community among our science students: Science Fridays. Each Friday, students and faculty and friends will gather for lunch and community in the Finch-Gray Science Center. There will be club meetings (Tri-Beta, Chem Club, Society of Physics Students, AITP, Math Club), special events (field trips, Skype speakers, visiting alumni presentations, etc.), and plenty of fun – horseshoes or darts anyone? We’ll also have games like Pandemic and movies (our first movie will be Friday Sept 19 with Contagion). Oh, and departments are offering tutoring services to students!
This promises to be a wildly successful effort to bring our new freshmen into the McMurry science community, to connect our students with our faculty, and to improve spirit and understanding on campus. If things go as planned, the outcome will be more successful students, greater retention within the sciences, and an environment that will attract new science majors.
Our theme at McMurry this year is “Ubuntu” – I am because we are. Our community-building initiative builds on a successful start by Physics and Chemistry, and is expanded in audience and activities to reach more students, meet their needs, and move them toward a successful future. In a very tangible way, McMurry sciences are living ubuntu with our students.
- Food Microbiology. Students investigated the safety of college students’ kitchens using standard sampling methods and identified a variety of microbes. They held a Thanksgiving Week feast of foods made using microbes, and ended the semester by writing a pamphlet to provide college students with tips for having a safe kitchen.
- Microbiology. Students learned their lab techniques through two investigations conducted. The first was isolation and identification of bacteria from meats: hamburger, ground turkey, ground venizen, and the surfaces of chicken and dove breasts. It was fascinating! The second study was isolation and identification of bacteria from the toothbrushes of college students.
- Microbial Diversity. Students searched soil, plants, fresh and ocean waters for as many bacteria as they could isolate and identify. At the conclusion of the semester, each student submitted 10 new strains to our stock collection, representing a wide diversity of bacterial shapes, groupings, and metabolic capabilities. Their final project was a project to identify and design a plan to terraform a new planet using microbes.
- Research Fellowships. Three BIMS students received research fellowships to support their work: two Bloomer Fellowships and the first Beasley Fellowship awarded.
- Honors Students. The BIMS program generated five of the nine McMurry Honors Program graduates this spring. Another will graduate this summer. Their theses, each of which is the equivalent of a masters thesis in length, quality, and expectations, cover topics such as bacterial spore size variations due to genetic modification and growth medium, spore germination properties of genetically modified and wild type strains, investigation of the possible disruptors of spore germination assays, isolation of new hydrocarbonoclastic (oil-eating) bacteria from railroad rail beds, and investigation of drug delivery methods on cancer treatment efficacy.
- Assessment. In our departmental assessment, the BIMS students have once again stood out for their abilities and achievement. Scores on the ETS Major Fields Test in Biology demonstrated the quality of the courses they’ve taken to prepare our students for successful lives. Scores placed our students above the mean for the 488 universities participating in categories emphasized by the BIMS program, and near the mean for the others.
- Graduates. We have seen BIMS graduates continue to excel in their placement in biotech jobs and graduate programs, and health professions schools (medical, PA, podiatry). What is the likelihood a BIMS graduate will end up using their BIMS degree? Something like 80% of all BIMS graduates from program inception are working in the field or pursuing graduate or advanced health professions degrees.
So, we have every reason to consider this an exceptionally good year for the BIMS program. We are hard at work on improvements for the program and our campus culture for the fall semester. Stay tuned for details!
It is easy to start up a program and think the work is done. Nothing could be further from the truth! Good science programs are always trying new things, evaluating, gathering info from the workforce, talking to graduates now in professional schools, etc. Good programs are on a never-ending quest for program improvement.
Where does the information come from to drive adjustments? At McMurry, all academic departments undergo annual assessment of their programs. We are given the liberty to select what aspect of our program to evaluate in a given year. Some programs evaluate what they are good at so they can check off the box saying they are successful. Biology at McMurry takes a different tack. We see assessment as an opportunity to uncover our weaknesses so we might make adjustments to strengthen our program for the benefit of future students. In the past, this led to the creation of the BIMS degree and Life Sciences degree to complement the Biology degree. Our approach to assessment is discovery of information to guide ongoing program improvement.
So what does Biology use to help measure program quality and success. We use internal and external measures. Internally, we use a diagnostic exam taken during the Junior year to see how well our lower-level courses are performing to prepare our students for upper level work. For BIMS majors, this is accomplished in BIMS 4000 Junior exam, a degree requirement. The course carries no load credit, and features an online exam created in-house that can be taken as often as desired until an acceptable score is achieved. The feedback is invaluable! If we find an abundance of missed questions in a particular area, we know we have a course we need to work on. We also have an internal measure of quality based on the students’ capstone research projects. This senior project and resulting research poster are very telling in how well a student can “go deep” integrating the breadth of their coursework to guide them. Is this student ready to enter work or research or professional school with a toolkit and the experience to do more than just talk about their discipline?
We also use external measures. Students take the ETS Major Field Test in Biology in the BIMS 4000 course. This gives us valuable information about how our students compare with those from hundreds of other Biology programs around the nation, both in their composite scores for biology knowledge in general, and in the subscore areas appropriate to their degree program. Our seniors also take the Collegiate Learning Assessment exam to measure growth of writing and reasoning skills over their four years of college. Also nationally-normed, this provides additional confirmation of the quality of their education in comparison with students from across the nation in a variety of college majors. And finally, we look at the success of our students in using their degree to further their careers – entry into a science-centered job, acceptance into a science graduate program, or acceptance into a professional school program. Their success beyond McMurry and the feedback they provide helps us emphasize what is important and eliminated wasted effort for future students aspiring to similar careers.
How intentional is your science department in assessing its quality?