Recently, three BIMS majors found out they will receive Bloomer and Beasley Research Fellowships for the coming year. All three are students of Dr. Gary Wilson and will be pursuing different projects investigating Bacillus thuringiensis spore properties as they pursue Honors research and write their Honors theses in the next year.
The Charles and Lisa Bloomer Research Fellowship is awarded to support research of promising students in the School of Natural and Computational Science (SNCS). This initiative of the Science and Math Advisory Board (SMAB) provides a research stipend for students as they work closely with McMurry faculty on a research project. Dr. Bloomer is a successful oral surgeon in Abilene who has generously and regularly supported the sciences at his alma mater. The biennial picnic the Bloomers host for SMAB members and SNCS faculty is a popular event building relationships and communicating the vision each holds for McMurry’s science future. The Beasley Research Fellowship is a new program supporting student research in the biological sciences. McMurry’s science alumni are spearheading an effort to create an endowment in memory of Dr. Clark Beasley, Distinguished Professor Emeritus from the Department of Biology who died this past summer. This represents the first year this fellowship has been awarded.
Recipients of this year’s awards are Heather Rawls, Miranda Nguyen, and Nicole McGunegle. Their projects will study wild type and genetically-engineered strains of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and Bacillus cereus (Bc) grown in rich and poor media. Bt is a spore-former that produces an insecticidal toxin at the time of sporulation. Bc is a commonly encountered and well-studied spore-former closely related to Bt but generally harmless. The genetically-engineered strains include Bt strains that do not form crystals and Bc strains that have been engineered to produce Bt crystals. One project will look at how the presence or absence of the crystal in rich and poor media influences spore and crystal size and toxicity. A second project will look at how growth conditions impact spore dormancy and the process of activation and germination. It is possible an undiscovered variation of quorum sensing might be involved. The third project will explore UV and chemical resistance of wild type and genetically-engineered strains produced in rich and poor media. All projects fit the criteria for BIMS research: a complete project doable in a short time frame, certain discovery no matter the experimental outcome, publishable work.
Stay tuned for updates on how this work is progressing!
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?
The end of the fall semester signals the completion of Dr. Wilson’s sabbatical and the beginning of the sabbatical for Dr. Benoit. The two are working on a project to create an online microbiology course for allied health students. Neither would say online micro is the way to go for training a new generation of microbiologists, but creating microbe awareness for those in allied health fields is possible using their unique approach. And, the realization that a growing list of schools have mandated these courses be taught online (including an online lab) has led them to face the challenge of making sure such classes are done right. So, the goal is better tools for online microbiology labs and lectures, resources that will maximize learning from a less than optimal approach.
Dr. Wilson’s summer and fall semester have been devoted to creating an online lab. The approach used is one of simulation, kitchen microbiology, and “scavenger hunts”-online searches and trips to local stores. He has only completed about 75% of the work to date, mainly because his students in his regular microbiology class this spring will help to provide a student’s perspective on “what works” in keeping the activities interesting, informative, and fun. There will be liberal use of videos in the final product, and students will help with their production. The goal is to have a finished, polished product by the end of the spring semester – in time for use in the BIOL 3403 microbiology course to be taught this summer.
Dr. Benoit will spend the spring developing the lecture component of the course. There will be scores of short, focused lectures on key topics to allied health microbiology. Using a cafeteria approach, an instructor can choose which of these to include to create a tailored course fitting a school’s unique needs. Benoit plans to use the materials in a test run this summer with BIOL 3403 and have a polished product ready for Fall 2013.
The project is being done with the cooperation and resources of Intuitive Systems, Inc., developer of the simulation software to be used in the lab. Students will purchase access to the web resources and complete many of their assignments online. It is expected that access to the lab and lecture together will run less than the cost of a textbook or lab manual. Quizzes and activities will be auto-graded on the website and the results sent to student and instructor. For a sneak peek at the early stages of website development, click here.