CLAS Acts Feb. 2010


Presenting research

Student Scholars Day

February 2010
Volume 3, Issue 6 Our Mission: The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is a student-centered and diverse learning community that engages in critical inquiry extending knowledge to enrich and enliven individual and public life.  

CLAS College Office Monthly Newsletter for Faculty  

From the Dean's Desk

Frederick J. Antczak, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.
~Peter Drucker  

There now.  The semester is underway, and January thaw is over.  Something about the dropping  temperatures and returning snow makes February a good time to concentrate on the essentials.  We're in the heart of our core business of teaching at this time of year, with other key activities such as advising, departmental committee work, and several faculty searches ramping up.  There are many signs that the longer term work is also being accomplished-for instance, CLAS faculty account for a near doubling of grant applications over previous years.  This work helps to ensure that our faculty, no matter what the disposition of our state funding, can continue to provide research opportunities for our students as well as advancing individuals' scholarly and creative agendas.  We won't get all of these grants on the first or even second try, but the effort is not wasted.  As many of you know, we are also involved in this sort of activity here in the College Office.   We recently learned to our disappointment that twelve R1 universities from a pool of 167 applicants were awarded a building grant we had also sought.  As we picked ourselves up and dusted ourselves off, we read with interest the comments of the reviewers who were very impressed with the caliber of the faculty here, the research they do, and the contribution they are making and will be able to make in the future.   They liked our multidisciplinary approach to freshwater research and gave special mention to how anthropology and geography had a role to play alongside AWRI and biology in the stewardship of our Great Lakes region.  They liked the design of the proposed building.  They acknowledged our need.  These comments made me not only very proud of the large contributing team for that effort, but also made me even more determined to parlay the effort already invested into benefits for the college.  The data gathered for that effort is already being used to plug our expertise into university efforts in sustainability and initiatives related to water, the meetings held have already jumpstarted discussion between faculty who had never met before, and the text of the proposal can be reworked to help us lobby for additional resources.  The shovel will go into the ground for our Learning Commons very soon, and even as that happens we will turn our focus onto the next priority with help from this work.  This February, some universities are seeing their faculty and administrators furloughed, their staff reduced, their phones turned off.  Here we have the privilege to continue to grow and plan and improve.  For instance, CLAS is now involved in fine tuning our strategic plan for 2015 with the help of a faculty and AP team to align us with the new university strategic positioning document.  I urge departments to explore how their needs and aspirations align with the university goals and how the CLAS plan might help you to achieve them.  Then, individual faculty can know how to shape their workloads so as to be of most value for their units, their colleagues, their students, and their future. Which brings me to the challenge of this late winter and early spring.  Each month in this communication, I tell you about the work each of the deans will be doing.  This time I want to describe some important work you'll be doing this semester.  Since the faculty approved the College personnel document, it now falls to departments to elaborate the University and College standards for your particular unit.  I know you will put lots of time and careful attention into this, but let me suggest a criterion for your Unit Criteria: your deliberations will be most productive if you see your department document as both evaluative and developmental. A new (or not so new) faculty member should be able to take this document and, whatever his or her specialty, shape their workloads in coming years to define a specific path toward tenure and promotion in your department. If it's possible to use your unit criteria document to find their way, then it will be likely to have both the flexibility and the concreteness for the department to use down the line as a fair evaluative document.  In keeping with the advice of the NCA accreditors and the University's next round of strategic planning, please aim to forward me your department's criteria for approval before Friday April 16. In February, I begin hunkering down with personnel cases.  I'll get my head above water in 6 to 8 weeks.  In the meantime when I come up for air, I want to keep pushing the Woodrow Wilson Foundation on more details about implementing the STEM teacher program, meet with candidates for faculty positions and with several departments about departmental leadership and strategic plans, go to two unit head meetings, to the February 4 Faculty Convocation and to Indulge in a Cause on February 18, attend the Board of Trustees meeting, participate in a meeting of the University Leadership Team and the Professional Science Masters group, and go to the third  year faculty seminar.   And now more than ever, I will be working on the Faculty and Staff annual giving campaign.  The higher the percentage of people giving in your unit, the easier it is for me to make the case to people outside your unit that it's worth giving to.  So please understand, EVERY GIFT COUNTS.  And if you run out of funds to contribute to, please remember the CLAS Fund for Excellence, which we've used to support both faculty and students in a variety of ways. AD Mary Schutten will continue to support student welfare initiatives by serving on the CLAS Curriculum Committee, supporting programming from the newly formed Office of Fellowships, meeting with the CLAS Student Advisory Committee, facilitating student appeals, and advising students in teacher preparation programs in the Movement Science department.  She will also be developing and implementing procedures for degree cognate substitution requests [a new responsibility in the CLAS Dean's Office], facilitating  the CLAS faculty writing group for strategic plan retooling, serving on a Movement Science department faculty hiring committee, continuing research activities using the Wii, submitting a manuscript  for BMI, working on academic achievement and fitness for grades 3,6,9 and revision of a collaborative grant proposal with the University of Hawaii. AD Gary Stark will be working with the College Personnel Committee on Winter personnel actions, working with the Faculty Council on the Winter election, interviewing candidates for positions in Communications and Spanish, assisting units and the Dean with the annual salary adjustment process, and collecting and analyzing requests for visiting positions for 2010-11. AD Jann Joseph teaching BIO 104; serving on Library Building Committee;  running the New Faculty Orientation for first, second and third year faculty; and supporting faculty mentoring. As you were filling out your FAR, I hope you are buoyed by the hard work you've done.   I look forward to reading them, and learning about your 2009 accomplishments!      

Faculty Feature

Getting to Real Science Fast
by Monica Johnstone, Dir. of CLAS Communications & Advancement

For Merritt Taylor of Biomedical Sciences and Cell and Molecular Biology, the bottom line is getting students to make a scientific leap sooner.  There is absolutely no doubt that they can and will, leaving the only real question: how can we get them solving major scientific problems sooner? His confidence in our students is born of the repeated experience of seeing their sense of possibility open up when they are engaged in research.  In fact, he believes that the greener the student, the greater the possibility that he or she will ask a breakthrough question, bypassing ingrained assumptions of more seasoned scientists.  Merritt's dad was a researcher so his own experience of labs came early.  Then in college, he felt a disconnection from the science in huge classes -- in high contrast to the scientific excitement he'd felt in his father's lab.  He worries that some students could miss that excitement unless he keeps exploring ways to deliver it to them.  The "transformational and fun" experience he seeks for his students has become his quest. At a conference recently, he spoke with an old mentor about the untapped potential of students that needs to be harnessed not just to train the next generation of scientists but to get them working on important projects now.  Not only is this for the student's benefit, we need what they will discover. He knows that this could sound a bit like zealotry and laughs at himself.  He admits that he looks at the rec center and sees energy that could be harnessed, too. Merritt recounts a story of former colleagues who when they learned he's be going to GVSU, to a university where teaching is emphasized, said it had been nice having him in science-as if to teach was somehow to leave real science behind.  He calls that "a scary disconnect", and it isn't hard to see that it motivates him to prove them wrong. His approach is to get the students in early--freshman year is not too soon-- train them, and help them to understand the importance of organization.  He forms groups of students into project teams.  He appreciates that these students will have fresh eyes.  He explains, for example, that we once thought that in adulthood new neurons were not formed.  Now we know they are.  The next generation tests assumptions just like that one.  His more senior students having mastered important lab techniques are asked to sit in on lab meetings and immerse themselves in the language spoken there.  Journal clubs look at papers in the field and discuss their meaning.  This helps them see the communication of evidence in yet another realistic context.  He sees the students making connections between techniques and answering scientific questions.  Merritt's role as their teacher becomes to clear up any confusion, touch base to answer questions.  He also likes to get students to present their lab findings to gain speaking and writing experience.  This can lead to poster sessions at Student Scholars Day, a regional conference or even a professional meeting if the project is successful.  In fact, so far, all of these efforts have been able to produce sharable results. A recent project makes a good example.  At first, the research questions were about how stem cells turned into glia, but that has changed radically.  Now student researchers are looking at how stem cells turn into neurons, especially those producing dopamine-which has application to our understanding of Parkinson's Disease. The mechanisms by which these neurons are formed are not well understood--yet. Using developing chickens, Merritt's students overexpress the genes they are interested in, and attach these to a gene that fluoresces.  If they can learn about what happens when certain neuron's die, as they do in Parkinson's, they may contribute to the development of gene therapies. "The students led us to this place of great potential," Merritt concludes. And the scientific acknowledgment was not long in coming. At an international meeting, the students heard how great their data is-and that was very exciting for them. So exciting that Merritt has to face their desire to "get it all done now" with explanations of the long path of the work and the importance of being responsible. Merritt is convinced that a side benefit of working here is that his students can take on higher risk questions than they would at an R1 institution.  There is time to explore and develop and bring undergrads in on the process.  "We work on a gene that others have put aside," Merritt explains.  "We can do higher risk, we have great facilities like CHS and can also use facilities at Van Andel.  It's so crazy it might work," he smiles. The next stage is a grant application to do modeling that is the "gold standard" for such work-on mouse embryos.  Students provided the figures for the grant application.     It's hard not to think that graduate programs somewhere are going to be very lucky to get these students, and that the prospects of the 1.5 million Americans with Parkinson's each year just looked up.