Tag: paul pyenta
This Friday, the faculty of the Biomedical Science Program will meet for a retreat to discuss our first year of operation and plan for the year ahead. Attending will be Tom Benoit, Heidi DiFrancesca, and Gary Wilson from Biology, Paul Pyenta from Chemistry & Biochemistry, and Alicia Wyatt from Computer Science. Larry Sharp is on vacation and will miss the meeting.
In reviewing the first year of operation, many milestones suggest a rich and profitable future for the program. The first year saw over 20 students declare a BIMS major, mostly incoming freshmen interested in health professions or biotech. The new courses were very well populated. Growing publicity from the city fathers, The Development Corporation of Abilene, the TTU School of Pharmacy, and local biotech firm Receptor Logic helped to strengthen our position as the premiere life science/biotech training program in Abilene. Heidi DiFrancesca and Hyunshun Shin from Chemistry & Biochemistry have begun collaborating on a project to develop and test new treatments for breast cancer. And McMurry has seen the value in promoting these endeavors through funding for equipment and supplies to support the research-in-teaching approach used in BIMS.
I’m sure some time will be spent discussing the parallel development of the biotech infrastructure in Abilene, with a variety of support facilities (including the Abilene Life Sciences Foundation Research Accelerator facility) coming on line. Add to this the decision by Abilene Independent School District to start a new engineering/computer science high school this fall and you have converging efforts that point to a bright future. One of the tracks possible at the new high school is biotech engineering, which Dr. Jon Weidanz from TTUHSC-School of Pharmacy and I are promoting.
So what does the future hold? That is the reason for our retreat! I expect that we’ll see growing commitments to link our courses together and use our BIMS lab courses to conduct research. We’ll see BIMS-focused proposals for the lab renovation competition being held on campus later this month. We’ll see plans for research grants and programs to help high school science teachers learn and implement new methods, techniques, and equipment into their courses. We’ll see more articulation agreements with professional schools for pharmacy, physical therapy, and who knows what else! Clearly, BIMS is on the move and possesses the creative firepower to transform the sciences at McMurry. Thoughtful planning and staged implementation are keys to making that happen.
Check back in a few weeks as I give an update on the event!
We’re entering the mid-summer period where the wind-down from the spring semester collides head-on with the spool-up for the fall semester. Things are busy on campus. Here’s a sampling:
- The first SOAR is over and the second one is next week. SOARs are events for incoming students to go through orientation and get their class schedules worked out for the fall. We had 120 students make McMurry their college home a week or so ago. Over 100 more incoming freshmen are scheduled to be on campus next week. They are the smart ones, as waiting for the third SOAR or to register at the beginning of the semester means risking closed classes and schedule conflicts. I mentioned in a comment that roughly 10% of students at the first SOAR signed up for the initial BIMS course. Looks like it will be a great start for Year Two of BIMS.
- Summer research is well underway. Dr. Paul Pyenta has been working with a Welch Summer Research student to clone gfp protein into a plasmid compatible with Bacillus thuringiensis. They’ve been using the new centrifuge mentioned in a recent post, but found the need to spin 250 ml bottles at a high speed than is possible with the swinging bucket rotor we got with it. Another centrifuge and modified procedure will have to suffice until we can purchase another rotor more suitable to the speeds required by the original protocol.
- Dr. Pyenta ordered a new digital gel documentation system today that will allow clear photography of gels for publication and presentation. This is a valuable piece of equipment for helping students build their biological portfolios – artifacts from their hands-on lab work will be collected and saved to document their proficiency.
- Dr. Tom Benoit taught Microbiology in Summer 1 and now is working on a proposal for the lab renovation competition McMurry will hold in August. Science faculty were encouraged to propose innovative spaces for teaching and research for the competition, which will see the winning entry adopted to guide a lab renovation project to take place in Summer 2010. Two labs and support spaces will be renovated to provide a model of future spaces to be seen in the Finch-Gray Science Center. BIMS intends to have the best proposal for consideration.
- Dr. Heidi DiFrancesca has spent time this summer traveling. No word yet whether she will join her husband Mark on a trip to Japan on behalf of their church. One additional task Dr. D will accomplish this summer is purchase of the next important pieces of teaching/research equipment: real-time PCR, Nanodrop spectrophotometer, new tissue culture hoods, and more.
- Dr. Larry Sharp has been busy overseeing applications to health professions schools – medical and dental, mainly. He us also teaching both A&P I and II this summer, all while designing the new Pre-Health Professions Seminar series to be taken by our pre-health students.
- Dr. Gary Wilson has been juggling administrative duties with an overhaul of his microbiology course and some development work for his software package VirtualUnknown(TM) Microbiology. A new totally online version of the software is in development.
- BIMS faculty plan to hold a retreat this summer to assess what worked this year and what needs “tweaking” as the BIMS program enters its second year. One item for discussion is how we can intentionally link courses together through common projects so that we work together in research as our students learn. We got a great start on that this year, but more can be done.
No doubt, it is a busy summer in Abilene!
Late in the spring semester, McMurry holds its annual Academic Awards Luncheon to honor the top students in each academic and athletic program. That luncheon was held today, and it marked the first occasion to name the top BIMS majors.
With such a new program, there are only a dozen or so BIMS majors. They fall into two categories – those who entered the program this fall as freshmen, and those who have transferred into the program from other majors. For this reason, only two students were recognized. The Outstanding Freshman Biomedical Science Major for 2008-2009 is Jonathan Urbanczyk from Abilene. Lauren Bump (a sophomore in years but a junior in hours) was named the Outstanding Junior Biomedical Science Major. She hails from San Antonio. Both students have distinguished themselves in a variety of ways and are outstanding representatives of the program. We’re proud of them both. They represent a truly exceptional group of students who claim Biomedical Science as their major – every one is a joy in the classroom and has a promising future ahead.
Also at the Academic Awards Luncheon, the winners of the Third Annual Student Poster Competition were named. Twenty four posters explaining student research were submitted by individuals and groups from Biology, Biochemistry, Psychology, Sociology, Political Science, Business, and Physics. The top award for an individual poster went to Matt Durham for his project entitled “The Design and Construction of a Plasmid Vector for Encoding Green Fluorescent Protein that is Compatible with Bacillus thuringiensis.” The project was guided by BIMS faculty member Dr. Paul Pyenta in Chemistry & Biochemistry. Matt took up the project begun years ago by another student and made great strides to express gfp in Bt cells. The work is in support of an interdisciplinary project that will study the ecology of Bt spores through the use of the genetically-modified, gfp-expressing strain Matt has engineered.
Second place in the group project category went to Dustin Mance, Laura Salas, and Julie Halverson for their project entitled “The Inhibition of Mannitol Use of Gram Positive Bacteria by Bacitracin”. This project was completed in their BIOL 3410 Microbiology course, where the lab skills and knowledge are learned through student involvement in research projects. One of the early projects all students participated in was the isolation and identification of bacteria from nature. As groups, students then studied the antiseptic/disinfectant- and antibiotic-resistance of their bacteria. This group tested their Gram positive cocci’s antibiotic resistance using mannitol salt agar, and an interesting anomaly was seen with Julie’s Staphylococcus aureus. The bacteria turned the normally red plate yellow (as expected) everywhere except in the vicinity of the bacitracin antibiotic disk. Their final poster project was to study this phenomenon further. Obviously, their work impressed the judges.
Our congratulations to each of these students for a job well done. Can’t wait to see what Fall 2009 has in store for us!