McMurry’s Biomedical Sciences Program is blessed to have a wonderful working relationship with Abilene’s premiere biotech company, Receptor Logic. This company is rather new to Abilene but has profoundly changed the industrial landscape of the city. Their pioneering work in the development of T-cell receptor mimics for therapeutic purposes places them in rarified air as one of the few places internationally where such technology is being developed and tested. The close friendship between RL’s founder, Dr. Jon Weidanz, and McMurry’s BIMS faculty has enabled the placement of McMurry students at RL facilities in the Abilene Life Sciences Accelerator for capstone projects that provide valuable real-world experience.
This semester, McMurry has three students working with RL’s scientists. Lauren Bump, recipient of the Danny Cooley Award as the outstanding BIMS student, is completing her Honors research in the lab. Her research will culminate in an Honors thesis this written and defended in December. In this, she will demonstrate the knowledge and skills picked up in BIMS and applied in T-cell work done at RL.
Karlie Dieterich is working at RL this fall to gain experience in immunological research as she applies to graduate programs in immunology. She was encouraged to visit with Dr. Weidanz, an immunologist, to discuss strong programs and career directions. The meeting resulted in her joining his lab as an undergraduate to give her some practical experience in the field. As an Academic All-Conference athlete and top science student, she is living proof that the high level of achievement seen in top athletes often spills over to high achievement in all arenas of life.
Malaney Lopez has extensive experience in the molecular lab, having been one of the prime resources as an undergraduate assistant for prepping and delivering molecular-based courses at McMurry last year. She wanted to hone her skills and give back to RL by volunteering this year without any course credit expected. Her love for molecular work is evident and her future in the field is assured.
In each case, the generosity of Receptor Logic and their commitment to contributing to the education of future biotech scientists is demonstrated. We cannot begin to express our thanks to Receptor Logic and Dr. Weidanz for their contributions to the education of our students.
It’s one thing to plan new spaces, but another thing to transition from where you are to where you will be. Countless hours have gone into designing spaces, getting quotes on equipment, and thinking through efficient and effective use of space. Now that such things are largely under control and winding down, attention is shifting toward moving out of the spaces so the work can begin.
There is a very narrow window of time during which everything has to be done. We end classes the first week of May and the fall semester starts mid-August. So anything we can do to hasten the start of construction is important. We are already in the process of ordering cabinetry and equipment. May should be the time for demolition and asbestos abatement. Planning is underway for storage of equipment and supplies from the affected spaces during the process. Our miniaturized version of D-Day planning is going well.
To help provide as much time as possible for construction, we have been given the green light to end our lab courses early. My microbiology course will finish a week or so early, and is actually done in the lab. We will finish the semester using VirtualUnknown(TM) Microbiology to accomplish much of the same work in simulation that we would normally do in the wetlab. Dr. Benoit is similarly finding ways to complete his courses’ use of the Micro lab ahead of schedule. Edvotek kits for his immunology course have been a lifesaver! Dr. D’s work in the genetics/molecular lab will likewise wind down in the next couple of weeks, and her headstart on packing nonessentials is well underway.
Like trapeze artists using perfect timing to leave one swing in order to catch the other, we are doing all we can to help the construction folks move in and complete their work easily and quickly. Then, we hope to be able to complete the maneuver by moving back in during August.
Several years ago, Dr. Russell laid out his vision for McMurry’s future in a speech entitled Vision 2023 . Central to that vision was an emphasis on growth of the sciences and their importance in preparing our graduates for jobs of the future. Biology responded to the challenge of building new and relevant programs for life sciences by developing three new, more focused programs. One of these is the BIMS program.
At the same time, the McMurry Capital Campaign, Shaping the Future, has a focus on supporting spaces for the sciences. These two developments led to a competition on campus this fall where programs were challenged with proposing new spaces to fit their new programs and help make their delivery more effective and efficient. Thought was that an invitation to develop a variety of science building proposals would provide a excellent collection of projects that could be shopped to potential donors to help improve all science programs. Biology submitted two lab renovation proposals, one of which was heavily geared toward improving spaces for BIMS courses.
The BIMS proposal calls for several improvements, including renovating and expanding spaces now used for teaching molecular biology and microbiology courses. The current spaces, S115 and S102, are home to labs (and sometimes lectures) for Genetics, Molecular Biology, Advanced Bioscience Techniques, Unicellular Organisms, Intro to Scientific Research, Microbiology, Immunology, and Senior Capstone Research. Obviously, such heavily used spaces are unusual on any campus and thus pose challenges to effective and efficient delivery, especially in a research-oriented approach to teaching. Renovating these spaces to better meet the needs of all students in these various courses is a challenge worthy of lab renovation.
In the competition, a Physics proposal and the BIMS proposal were chosen for funding. The Trustees meet this weekend and hopes are they will approve expenditure of $2.5M from the Capital Campaign to fund the renovation projects. If so, planningand design will begin immediately and the renovation will start in May to be completed before the Fall 2010 semester.
Here is what the BIMS proposal consists of: more flexible spaces that will support both lecture and lab, anterooms for equipment and incubation and project setup so students can work on their projects outside of their normal hours without interefering with other classes using the teaching spaces, a common equipment area for major pieces of equipment that might be used by students in either lab, special spaces for working with RNA and tissue culture, and possibly additional offices and student space for study, group work, and “hanging out”. Our hope is our students will become citizens of the building and not simply tourists, that thinking and acting like scientists will give all our BIMS graduates a leg up on those who have gone through conventional and impersonal science programs.