Summary of our report to the Dean

Below find the essential features of the Research Option as presented in SS13 and US13.

  1. The research option began with hiring past MMG-302 students as teaching assistants.  These students piloted all experiments that current MMG-302 students would perform in the research option. The research option provided these four students with experience in a research laboratory at approximately 10 hours/week.  CRITIQUE: We were not able to get these students online until the beginning of the spring semester. Optimally these students would begin around October or early November during the semester immediately preceding the MMG-302 semester to get the experiments under control.
  2. 24 students expressed interest in the research option during the spring semester and 18 students submitted final reports. 4 students participated during the summer session and submitted final reports.
  3. Each RO student isolated and characterized 6 strains from the environment. The isolation took advantage of Pseudomonas. Isolation agar that contains Irgasan, a broad spectrum antimicrobial to which Pseudomonas and a few other strains are resistant to. The Spring semester students isolated from soil and dairy manure and the summer students from the Red Cedar.
  4. During the spring semester the first 8 weeks were spent isolating and purifying the strains during regularly scheduled labs. The remaining experiments, including antibiotic sensitivity testing and PCR amplifications were performed during four extra evening laboratories from 7-9 pm.
  5. The general outline of the research is contained in the handout that follows this summary.  Briefly, after isolation the students characterized the isolates with respect to 1.) phylogenetic affiliation (16S rRNA sequence), 2.) antibiotic resistance profiles (Kirby-Bauer), 3.) presence of Type III secretion apparatus (PCR targeting popB) and 4.) presence of virulence factors associated with Type III secretion and clinical strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PCR targeting exoS and exoT). The large question the
    students were addressing was as follows; are there environmental sources of the virulence factors found in P. aeruginosa in non-P. aeruginosa strains isolated from environmental sources.
  6. To my knowledge there are 3-4 students who are now looking for or have found research positions.

What we found.

  1. The Pseudomonas isolation agar selected for all strains resistant to irgasan. This included Pseudomonas, Aeromonas, some Flavobacterium, Janthinobacterium, Rahnella,
    Carnobacterium, Erwinia, Rheinheimera, Shewanella, Stentrophomonas, and Yersinia.
  2. All students were successful in isolations, phylogenetic characterizations, obtaining
    antibiotic sensitivity patterns and PCR.
  3. The final reports from the students indicated to me that they put a good amount of work into this and I think, judging from limited feedback, they got out of it what they expected – a small taste of research.
  4. The dataset collected by these students is somewhat large and is available upon request. It includes a spreadsheet for antibiotic resistance profiles. The data from the
    PCR assays is contained in their individual reports and has not yet been collated into a single format.
  5. The work from the summer students was pushed harder by the summer TA. Summer students focused on isolations from the Red Cedar, as did the TA.
  6. Primary isolates from the Red Cedar were Pseudomonas and Aeromonas.
  7. The Summer TA noted a correlation between rainfall and prevalence of Pseudomonas in the stream.
  8. The summer TA presented her work at the summer Undergraduate Research Forum. This should be a requirement of undergraduate TAs for this option.
  9. Two 302 students and the TA will continue their project during the fall
    semester of 2013.

The full report can be found in the pdf found at the following link: deans-report


Teaching Statement

As instructors it is important to prepare students for their careers after college. In a number of fields this could involve simple memorization of key terms or concepts. However, as outlined in “Vision and Change”, this methodology simply does not suffice in the biological sciences. This release was the seminal work of a number of biological educators and it outlined core concepts and competencies needed for biology students to be successful after college. I have long disliked the idea of memorization in the college setting. If we are to prepare modern students, constant access to information must be considered. Thus, focusing on deep learning and core concepts is far more important than covering a vast amount of information at a shallow level.

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education is in the midst of a great transformation, in which “Vision and Change” has served a critical role. In addition, treating teaching as research leads to constant improvement and avoids a stagnant classroom environment. My teaching philosophy has been shaped by “Vision and Change”, the numerous teaching workshops, seminars, courses, and conferences I have attended, and the idea of teaching as research. As such, I have aligned my course learning goals and student-centered active learning activities to the core competencies necessary for student success post-college.


I believe that both lecture-based and student-centered active learning courses each have their advantages if done correctly. For example, lecture courses can be successful if students are given time during the course to pair up and discuss a complicated or difficult topic being presented. However, other courses, such as advanced courses with students who are experienced with active-learning would allow a course focused on student-centered active learning to engage students at high cognitive levels. Regardless of the instruction technique used, I always integrate the following into my teaching:  daily learning objectives aligned with course goals, student engagement, regular formative assessment, peer review, and inclusivity.

Daily learning objectives:  When students enter my classroom they will be provided with daily learning objectives which fit into larger, course objectives. These objectives direct students so they understand the broader objectives in which the daily materials fit. I utilize these objectives explicitly so my students seek not to memorize the material, but understand the deeper concepts and apply them to new situations.

Engagement:  In my opinion there is no greater travesty in college-level education than to lack engagement in an introductory classroom. This engagement could simply be the way materials are introduced; I am an animated and humorous instructor and this is often reflected in my student evaluations. In addition, I ensure that the materials being taught are up-to-date. If something has recently changed in the field it is an exciting time for students to realize that science is constantly evolving. Finally, I enjoy bringing topics from the news into the classroom. While to some it may seem a divergence from the course goals, this is essential for engagement and for students to understand that the material has real-world implications.

Assessment:  Regular formative assessments (e.g., clicker questions, concept mapping, short write-ups, and case studies) provide me and my students with valuable feedback. With this, students can view their progress towards meeting learning objectives prior to summative assessments and I can adjust my teaching style to address student misunderstandings. Summative assessments are aligned to the learning objectives, and designed to examine student recall of important topics (e.g., concept maps and short answer questions) and then expand upon that to test critical thinking (e.g., case studies and experimental design). As stated previously, experience with these “new” forms of assessment is essential. As such, these forms of assessment will be introduced early in the course as formative assessments. Finally, students will know what is expected of them as my assessments will reflect the course and daily learning objectives. In addition, I always provide the rubric by which their answers were assessed.

Peer review:  One of the more difficult and important skills for any individual is the ability to provide and accept constructive criticism. It is important to create an environment where students are comfortable expressing their ideas. Peer review provides an opportunity for this, in addition to additional formative assessment beyond what an instructor can provide. If done properly, peer review is an immensely powerful technique in an active learning classroom.

Inclusivity:  Inclusivity is something that all instructors should strive for. However, this is not often stressed until after an issue arises. I have attended several workshops on inclusivity and I am now in the process of evaluating my course material and teaching style to stress inclusivity. In addition, I will place a statement in my course syllabus stating the proper way to report un-inclusive behavior from a member of the course or from myself. A few examples of inclusivity improvements I am making to my role as teacher and mentor include: 1) course activities account for different learning styles (e.g., visual, aural and hands-on), 2) ensuring that presented primary literature reflect the diverse members of the scientific community, and 3) increasing my own understanding of different cultures, religions, special needs, and economic backgrounds through workshops and discussion.

I am a work in progress and so is my teaching. I stressed previously that I see instruction and course design as research, and this will continue when I receive a position. I will continually review my methodologies and develop my knowledge and techniques through faculty development opportunities in person and online. My continued development as a mentor, teacher, and facilitator is necessary to ensure students are provided with the best opportunity to achieve course goals, have a positive learning experience, and succeed after my course.


My multidisciplinary background has allowed me to step into a diverse set of courses at Michigan State University including biology, microbiology, and genetics. Additionally, I am qualified to design seminar and laboratory courses in microbial ecology, diversity, physiology, genomics, genetics, and bioinformatics. I have had the opportunity to participate in both large (≥400) and small (~30) enrollment courses while at Michigan State University and developed classroom materials for these courses.

My ideal course

While I find teaching biology exciting and worthwhile no matter the subject area, I would very much like to teach a 100- or 200-level introductory (micro)biology course and companion laboratory. I believe that my enthusiasm for teaching and use of up to date instructional techniques could lead to increases in student engagement and retention in the program. STEM fields are exciting and inherently interdisciplinary; thus these introductory courses can appeal to a wide variety of student interests even if they wish to pursue careers outside of science. If provided with an introductory course I would stress the broader applicability of STEM courses and ensure that my students do not leave the course to immediately forget what they have learned. These would serve as foundational lessons by which they can interact with the world, or continue throughout the program to advanced courses.

For the Vision and Change PDF look here.

You can now call me doctor!

Well, it’s been a long while since my last update.  I have been quite busy finishing up my dissertation here at Michigan State.  But, as of July 28, 2015 I am now (un)officially a doctor.  Now to keep looking for a job, Colorado here I come!

The bottles are a lab tradition – some bubbly to share with my lab- and floor-mates. They were labeled R-4 and K-1 to show that I am the fourth and first grad to come out of Gemma and Kaz’s labs (respectively).


Diversity, Inclusion and Sensitivity Workshop (MSU Campus, spring 2015)

Recently went to a diversity workshop offered by Michigan State.  It was interesting to attend and I learned a lot.  There are a lot of hot-button issues that I’m only now becoming aware of.

I like to pride myself on treating my students as equals and working to increase my inclusivity in the classroom.  My greatest weakness is still trans individuals as I tend to think in a biological sense (in terms of sexes), but attending this workshop has definitely opened my eyes to a lot of issues that I was unaware of.

But hey, realizing your weaknesses and ignorance about certain issues is the first step towards fixing bad (or unaware) behavior.

And hey, I got a certificate, so that’s fun.DIS

Improvements from a Flipped Classroom May Simply Be the Fruits of Active Learning (link)

Improvements from a Flipped Classroom May Simply Be the Fruits of Active Learning

Recent paper out by Jamie L. Jensen, Tyler A. Kummer, and Patricia D. d. M. Godoy which talks about active learning environments and flipped classrooms.  I can dig it.  I’ve been thinking about this for years – is it that better teachers are doing the flipped classroom and that’s why we see a boom of productivity, or is it really the method itself?  The following article makes it seem like the direction of instruction (if you will) isn’t as important as having an active learning environment.

Click here to be linked to the article! 

Anyone have any objections or issues with their methods?

Facilitating Discussions That Work (MSU Workshop)

This workshop, hosted by Rique Campa III PhD, was mainly devoted to getting your students to contribute to the course.  Most professors blame the students for not participating while taking no responsibility.  Did you ask the right type of question? Did you convey to the students early in the semester that course discussions were an important component?  These are important things to consider before casting blame on your class.

One thing I’ve learned throughout all of these workshops:  if you want your students to be good at something at the end of the semester – start them on it early and teach them how to be successful with it.  You can’t expect your students to excel at group work or discussion-based work if you don’t teach them the basics and give them a framework for greatness.  Isn’t that what we’re doing, after all?

Besides that point…let’s get back on track!

The majority of the workshop was teaching us the difference between factual, evaluative, and interpretive questions.  They each have their place in teaching, but Dr. Campa stressed the importance of interpretive questions when putting things up for discussion.  For a brief explanation of these terms go to this fine presentation I found by the Upper Merion Area School District. Interpretive questions ask what the author/material means and avoid simple regurgitation of facts or feelings about the materials.  These interpretive questions work best when the professor is engaged and excited about the answers being provided by the students, and Dr. Campa stressed that students should walk away from the discussion having produced something (think-pair-share).  Also, students should be able to answer the question, but you shouldn’t be looking for one single answer.  If there’s only one acceptable answer, that means you asked a factual question…not an interpretive one.

Some students don’t think well on their feet, and thus this type of discussion may be threatening to them.  But, by having students think to themselves and write down their thoughts, they have something to fall back on when they are called on to talk in a group or to the class.  This would also result in them having an interior dialogue which they could reflect on later.  All-in-all I think it’s a solid way to do things.

So, what I learned from this workshop is that interpretive questions are hard.  Factual questions come out fast and on-point, but they don’t accomplish what we want them to.  If a student knows the answer, they’ll respond.  If they don’t know the answer, they remain quiet.  There is no discussion happening. Create an environment where students can get creative and be wrong, they’ll still learn something in the process.

Oh, and one more thing that I thought was gold…

Dr. Campa enjoys waiting for extended periods of time in class before picking a student or continuing the discussion.  It leads to the students being ‘forced’ to contribute.  One class he waited for over a minute in complete silence – no response from the class.  He then started packing up his materials and his laptop and walked towards the door and said “we can discuss it on the final.”  He said a number of hands went up immediately.  Solid way to do it.  If your students don’t want to have a discourse with you present, they can have one on the final.  I think I’ll use that.