It is hard to teach lab-intensive courses without labs. That truth is very apparent to us as we enter the second week of classes with at least another four weeks of work remaining before our labs are ready for occupancy. Though the walls now have sheetrock and mud and tape, the work left to be done is staggering. Finish and paint, installation of doors and windows, flooring and cabinetry and equipment – all these and more are left to do to turn cold, sterile spaces into a home for science. After all, you need an autoclave to teach microbiology; you need incubators to teach the biology of unicellular organisms.
Yet, the work of educating students continues, albeit modified. There are adaptations galore as we find alternative activities that teach the same principles in labless spaces. Today in BIMS 1300 Introduction to Scientific Research we saw a case in point. The topic for the day was use of logic and the scientific method to solve mysteries and problems. What better way to teach that than by playing Clue and Mastermind! Students identified the variables and recognized the problems occurring when one doesn’t isolate and address them. It became clear very quickly that careful annotation of results can help reduce possibilities and hone in on the answer. Students enjoyed an unconventional way of approaching learning central to the work of a scientist. Make an observation, pose a question, predict an outcome, conduct an experiment, analyze the results, and move on to the next question. All of those elements track perfectly with the logic going into figuring out of Col. Mustard did it in the dining room with a rope. At the conclusion of the lab, students fit their decision-making processes into the format of the scientific method. All agreed that this was an exceptionally effective way to get a grasp of the thought processes and skills we all possess to one agree or another that enable us to interrogate nature.
By popular demand, BIMS is adding a microbiology course for non-majors. In actuality, this is not a new course at all, but one that was taught for several years and then dropped because of staffing issues – there was nobody available to teach the course. Now, with Dr. Wilson returning to full-time teaching after years as the Natural & Computational Sciences dean, that problem is a thing of the past. BIOL 3403 Foundations of Microbiology returns to the catalog and will be taught in spring semesters and during summers.
BIOL 3403 is geared toward health professions where an understanding of basic microbiology and its impact on health is essential. Its counterpart for BIMS majors – BIOL 3410 – provides a greater exposure to the biology and physiology and genetics of microbes. Mineral cycling and the biology of the Archaebacteria (methane production, growth at extremes of temperature and salinity) and Cyanobacteria (photosynthesis) are clearly important to a biology major – not nearly so to someone who is pursuing an allied health career. BIOL 3403 is likely to have a greater emphasis on microbes posing health risks and how they can be avoided or destroyed in a healthcare setting. Antibiotics, immunity, and safe water and food are more likely to dominate discussions on a regular basis. By providing direction and focus to the two courses, the non-majors course can be effectively taught without the extensive pre-requisites in previous biology and chemistry courses expected for the majors course. The BIMS program sees the two courses as a welcomed response to the needs of two very different populations of students and allows the instructors to tailor their courses to the needs and interests of each. At this time, it looks like Dr. Wilson will teach BIOL 3410 and Dr. Benoit will teach the new course, BIOL 3403.
Just another example of the responsiveness of BIMS to the needs of students!
On Sunday, April 25th, McMurry’s academic program honored its stars during the annual Academic Awards luncheon. The following students were recognized for their academic achievement in the BIMS program:
Outstanding Freshman: Oluwatoyosi Adewunmi
Outstanding Sophomores: Elise Hager and Krissy Cobb
Outstanding Junior: Jonathan Urbanczyk
Outstanding Senior: Lauren Bump (pictured at left)
Danny Cooley Award for the Outstanding BIMS Student: Lauren Bump
This is the first year for the Danny Cooley Award, established to honor the memory of McMurry graduate James Danny Cooley. Danny was a Viet Nam veteran and Abilene firefighter approaching retirement when he returned to McMurry to complete his bachelor’s degree. Modest and humble, no one would have guessed he had been a hero in both of his prior lives. As a McMurry student, he excelled in math and science and pursued a BS in Natural Sciences degree. But during his junior year, a love for microbiology was birthed that resulted in his consideration, at age 48, of pursuit of a doctorate in Medical Microbiology at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Graduate School of Biomedical Science. His dissertation provided the first definitive proof of the fungal origins for sick building syndrome. He told me that the week his work became public he and mentor Dr. David Straus were contacted by over 200 news agencies from around the world. Later, the CBS show 48 Hours had a special episode featuring Dr. Straus’s lab.
Dr. Danny Cooley graduated from TTUHSC-GSBS and started an environmental testing firm in Corpus Christi. He and wife Sylvia (also one of my students at McMurry) made Corpus Christi their home until he was taken ill and died from multiple myeloma some years later. It is through this award that his memory is honored as a McMurry alumnus, world-changing scientist, and person.