Tag: Texas Tech University

Good Timing

by gwilson on Feb.23, 2010, under A Day in the Life...

snow dogsWhat a crazy winter it has been in Abilene!  It is snowing AGAIN, and McMurry’s classes will start at 11 this morning to give students, faculty, and staff an opportunity to take their time and travel safely to campus.  This make at least three “major” storms here this winter – enough snow and ice to delay or cancel classes.  Right now we are at 4 inches of snow and growing.  For a city where the average high temperature this time of year is in the 60s and low in the 40s, it has been a rude and rough winter.

Some people have all the luck.  Dr. Larry Sharp, our human biology guru and the pre-health advisor, was invited to tour one of the Caribbean medical schools this week.  So, while we are digging out and scraping ice, the only ice he’s worried about is for his tea as he watches tropical sunsets from his cabana.  The only scraping he’ll do is to get the sand off his feet after a walk along the beach. Why didn’t we have trips like this when I was pre-med advisor?

One connection we hope Dr. Sharp will make this week is with one of our graduates.  Dr. Cari Roark Sloma received her doctorate in medical immunology from the Mayo Clinic’s Graduate School.  After completing a special year-long post-doctoral program for medical scientists working with physicians and working in industry a couple of years, she moved her family to the Caribbean to join the faculty at one of the medical schools in the region.  Not bad for an El Paso girl who saw great success at McMurry in her academic and extracurricular activities – a very involved student who didn’t give up life to thrive in the sciences.  But she also took advantage of some special opportunities beyond our campus.  She was a participant in two NSF-sponsored Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) summer programs at TTU and Indiana after her sophomore and junior years.  Result?  A passion for biomedical research developed in Cari and led her to this time and place of her life.

Larry, give her a hug and tell her we’re proud of her!  Then, bring some of that tropical weather back with you to Abilene.  Please!

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Different Approach, Different Outcome

by gwilson on Dec.02, 2009, under A Day in the Life...

Dr. Tom Benoit

Dr. Tom Benoit

An interesting thing has happened this fall in Dr. Benoit’s BIOL 1301 Unicellular Organisms class.  Among the usual collection of freshmen starting on their journey through university-level science courses is a handful of upperclass students from other majors who are in it to broaden their horizons.  Though the material may cover topics well below their level of preparation and experience, students are finding the approach taken by Dr. B is opening their eyes to seeing old things in new ways.

One of the strengths of a student-centered approach to teaching is the focus on finding ways the material can be presented using examples and terms that are approachable to an 18-year old.  Too often, college faculty muddy the water by using terminology and theoretical conventions that are common knowledge to their peers but not interesting to students and not helpful toward novice understanding.  For instance, in describing the importance of attachment between pathogen and host it would be easy to focus in on binding energy and protein conformation and specificity and such.  Bacterial virulence stemming from the presence of capsular material could center on how immunologically unreactive capsules tend to be and how host-pathogen binding can be interrupted.  Young students simply don’t have the frame of reference to make this meaningful.  So, instead Dr. B uses the example of an individual trying to pick up a wet watermelon seed to give a visual image of the difficulty phagocytic cells can have in binding to, engulfing, and destroying foreign invaders.  With that mental image to guide understanding, he can go on to explain how those more detailed elements of understanding are logical.

In my own classes, I do something similar.  Today was a discussion on enterotoxins.  We began with real-life examples.  The hamburger I ate in the Tech snack bar the morning of Steve Hickerson’s masters’ defense, and how that led to a Campylobacter infection sending me to the hospital.  Why was I so sick, and why were my symptoms “logical” formed the basis for presenting the lesson.  We talked about cholera toxin binding to adenylate cyclase to turn on ion pumps, sending ions flooding into the gut lumen.  We talked about the forces of movement through membranes and how water would rush out of cells to try to equalize ion concentrations on both sides of the gut lining.  Result – diarrhea.  I emphasized for the umpteenth time how hydrophobic/hydrophilic interactions, equilibria, and the second law of thermodynamics all make this logical – chemistry and physics are important to how life works!  We discussed where ions and water would come from to replenish supplies lost from the gut lining – the blood.  The result?  drop in blood pressure from fluid loss and ion imbalances causing cardiac arrhythmia.  Suddenly, the bacterial exotoxin is not just causing diarrhea but now is life-threatening, and the progression of cause and effect makes perfect sense to them.  And we ended the discussion by talking about the millions of children around the world that die each year from diarrhea.  What a difference we can make by helping villages find safe water supplies and putting our knowledge of microbiology to work!

Our job in BIMS is not to fill students with facts and build unrelated skills.  Such an attitude and approach results in a more combative approach by students to learning.  Retention of knowledge is poor, enthusiasm for the subject wanes, and students leave the class wondering what they learned of practical value.  Instead, BIMS seeks to use a different approach and gain a different outcome.  We personalize our approach to make it accessible and interesting, and to maximize the knowledge transfer taking place.  Students thrive in this environment and our classes are perceived as being easier, more approachable, more useful – when all we are doing is packaging the same material in new, more palatable ways.

So back to Dr. B’s class…  What a great compliment it is when students from other majors tell you they understand their own disciplines better having sat through your course.  They see our approach as not only maximizing knowledge transfer in BIMS but also in clarifying their own fields, helping connect the dots, removing the clouds of professor-ese to make that which was theoretical and unapproachable now understandable, practical, and useful for their education.  Not a bad outcome!

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