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We encourage all alumni to stay in touch with the school’s faculty. We will be contacting you via email every fall for any news you would like to share with your fellow alumni. As much as possible this news will be included in our yearly newsletter.
If you are not receiving these requests and our newsletter, update your information with the ISU Alumni Association’s online form.
You can also directly email the School of Biological Sciences Alumni Newsletter committee with comments. Let us know what you would like included in your newsletter or on this webpage.
2017 Newsletter Highlights
Using inquiry to introduce students to molecular and cell biological research
By Nate Mortimer
Being involved in research can provide a capstone educational experience for biology students, and providing these opportunities for Illinois State University undergraduates is an important priority for the School of Biological Sciences. In the spring 2016 semester, 17 students were afforded just such an opportunity by enrolling in BSC 354 Biotechnology II: Cell Biology Techniques. This course, taught by assistant professor of cellular immunology Nate Mortimer, used an inquiry-based learning approach to introduce students to experimental design and techniques used in molecular and cell biological research.
“My idea for the course was to engage my students in research by teaching them lab skills in the context of an ongoing project focused on a Drosophila model of autoimmunity,” Mortimer said. After learning several basic cell biology techniques, the students used these new skills to test a newly discovered mutant allele in a conserved immune gene. Their experiments provided data suggesting that the new allele encodes a gain of function version of the protein, and that this may lead to autoimmunity in the flies. “This molecular finding corresponds with the genetic data that we had previously collected in the lab,” Mortimer said. “The students’ data are an important step in understanding the function of this mutant protein.”
After learning some additional techniques to study the fly immune response, the course continued with an open learning approach, in which the students identified research questions they found interesting and generated hypotheses. “In the course we further developed our critical thinking and problem-solving skills by creating our own experimental plans, analyzing results, and learning how to interpret our experiments,” Nicki Wagner said. “I enjoyed how the techniques we learned and mastered in the course were used to answer the questions we had and led us to new discoveries,” Ashley Waring said. “The course allowed us to have freedom designing our experiments, which let us to strengthen our ability to thinking like future scientists,” Beth Oates said.
To read more, download the Spring 2017 newsletter from the link above.
2016-2017 academic year was another exciting year for ISU biology. With our sub-disciplinary sequences (Zoology, Physiology, Neuroscience, and Behavior, Plant Biology, Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Biology Teacher Education) now in full implementation we have seen our numbers of undergraduate majors grow by more than 50 percent from 495 in 2010 to 762 currently! This student population growth brings biology up to the second largest major in the College of Arts and Sciences. Maintaining healthy enrollments is absolutely essential during the state budget turmoil. Approaching nearly two years without a state budget is having substantial debilitating effects on many state institutions, but ISU has been able to weather the storm due to our increased attractiveness to students. Biology is certainly playing its part in keeping ISU strong and successful.
Another critical component to combating the current fiscal crisis is to seek other sources of revenue. In 2016, biology faculty members were successful in attracting over $2 million dollars in extramural grant support for the various research efforts in the school. Extramurally funded research programs enable our students to actively engage in the scientific process where they can put the problem-solving skills they learn in the classroom toward investigating cutting-edge questions within their areas of interest and gain valuable one-on-one mentoring from their faculty mentors. These efforts have resulted in nearly 70 peer-reviewed publications from biology this year, with almost all of them containing one or more student co-authors. Reflexively, having faculty engaged in current biological investigations keeps them knowledgeable on the most recent advances in science, and they can bring this information back to the classroom. This is critical for providing the best education to our majors because at the current rate of scientific discovery, the information in textbooks is three to four years out of date the day the text is published.
Along these lines, we had two outstanding biology scholars recognized by the University this year. Professor John Sedbrook received the Outstanding College Researcher Award, and Professor Rachel Bowden was named Distinguished Professor, the highest honor a faculty member can be awarded at ISU.
As always, we love to hear from our alumni, so please drop me (or one of your old mentors) an email or like us on Facebook and let us know what you are up to. If your travels happen to bring you near the Bloomington-Normal area, please stop into the school office and say hello.
Wishing you much success, Craig Gatto, Ph.D. Director, School of Biological Sciences.