CLAS Acts June 2008

Gary Greer, BIO

June 2008
Volume 1, Issue 10

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

Who's Speaking at the Fall Arts Celebration? Stephen Greenblatt, New York Times bestselling author, Cogan University Professor at Harvard University, and one of the world's leading Shakespeare scholars, takes us on a journey into a legendary puzzle about Shakespeare-the lost play, Cardenio. In his lecture, "Cultural Mobility: The Strange Case of Shakespeare's Cardenio," Professor Greenblatt tackles a 400-year old mystery of drama and passion with his own special blend of humor and insight.

CLAS Academic Advising Center Freshman orientation and registration has begun again! We are two weeks into the orientation season for our newest group of GVSU students and these students represent one of the most academically prepared entering classes that we've ever had.  We are expecting nearly 4000 to participate in freshman orientation this summer, which is also the largest entering class we've ever had!  If you are interested in advising in the freshman orientation program in summer 2009, please contact Betty Schaner at

From the Dean's Desk

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

I am happy to report that the College Office is now very close to becoming a single entity and that we will move to MAK soon.  Once we are ensconced, I invite you to visit us at MAK  B-4-232-taking the stairs is very good exercise we find.  Immediately after we move, just as Jann Joseph told us they would, the spaces we vacate in Padnos and Lake Superior Halls will be transformed for their new functions. No rest for the weary though.  Jann and I have already attended meetings about the next building priorities.  The needs are many and the easy dollars very few, but with lateral thinking, lobbying and fundraising we will be able to keep the momentum and grow appropriately.  Jann and I appreciate your flexibility as we maneuver our way toward more efficient space. The moves were the trigger for the two very successful Shred Fests and the recent office product exchange.  Rumor had it that History made out very nicely at the product exchange, having to make three trips! Mid-month we will welcome back from Poland Gary Stark.  But he's not the only one playing on a wide stage.  He'll return to some big news, such as the posting as the ambassador to Russia of GVSU alumnus John Byerle, who majored in French.  And Karen Libman, currently in China with our Bard-to-Go students, gave comment to the GR Press on the reaction there to the earthquake.  Jodee Hunt, biologist and Faculty Council Chair, has just returned from Nicaragua with many stories and 300 pictures.  The New Music Ensemble is still on the Billboard charts after ten weeks. There is a great deal going on -an overall rise in activity I'm pleased to see. Classics has once again both Latin and Greek summer reading groups underway and another Summer Classics Program coming up.  English has summer camps and seminars related to the Lake Michigan Writing Project.  The Athletic Training Program is hosting an alumni reception in conjunction with the National Athletic Trainers' Association annual meeting and symposium-22 students are going.  June 8 will see the eighth Department of Mathematics NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program.     Dante James, a film alum, will be directing "To Be Heard," the summer film project here.  Though the date is yet to be confirmed, the School of Communications will be hosting a videoconference and webcast regarding the Film initiatives in Michigan.   Modern Languages and Literatures is holding a faculty retreat and and teaching workshop. Not to be outdone, the College office has put out an alumni e-newsletter to feature this and other glorious student, alumni and faculty news.  We've also recently posted the results of our Senior Survey for the class of 2008.  After reading over 100 examples of the wonderful "next steps" of the students we just graduated, you are sure to feel inspired and glad to be part of such success.  Surely a great way to enter into summer.
Is there a topic you would like to see covered in this faculty newsletter? E-mail suggestions to

Faculty Feature

What We Can Learn from a Fern 
by Monica Johnstone, Dir. of CLAS Communications & Advancement 

Gary Greer, Associate Professor of Biology and Associate Editor of the American Fern Journal is interested in many things, but clearly, ferns are special. Ferns are, as Gary writes on his departmental webpage, "currently at their zenith of diversity - an evolutionary success story with many secrets to discover."  In research that spans several years and several students, Gary is unlocking some of those secrets. I interviewed Gary recently about the project that was one part of his recent sabbatical work and the ongoing lab research of his students, Eric Andres and Corey Kapolka. As he grabs two sheets of paper, Gary announces,  "in Science, nothing is ever simple."  In moments, he has covered the better part of the first sheet in words written IN CAPS and in whirling diagrams while explaining that most people don't know the half of it when it comes to sex in general and ferns in particular.   It seems that non-biologists, myself included, get a bit caught up in the sperm and egg part and forget about the rest of the cycle and the two copies of every chromosome that are key to the rest of our bodies on an ongoing basis.  And, as for the ferns, most of us are really only aware of those we can see on the forest floor.  We are completely in the dark about the minute gamesophytes that are the other half of the picture. The very short version is that when fern spores are released, some end up in the light and become heart-shaped females.  The biggest and fastest of these manage to release a pheromone that actually makes males of the stragglers unlucky enough to find themselves in a darker spot.  The male contribution to fertilization is water soluble so a little rain assists in transport to the female's egg.  Single copies of chromosomes meet to become double, and the next thing you know, some really tiny ferns are growing in the forest. Using the cap to his pen, Gary fishes a couple examples of "pregnant" females from a small jar of water to illustrate.  It is my first chance to see the other half of the fern world. This juncture calls for the second piece of paper.  The fern pheromone we've been discussing (antheridiogen) is quite similar to a hormone (gibberellin) that coordinates activity internally for all vascular plants (that is, just about everything that isn't moss or liverwort).  It quickly becomes clear that the ramifications of the research are related to the similarity.  Learn about the one and you open new and interesting lines of inquiry about the other. A new style of diagram on the paper signals that this is both the part where it all gets complicated and the locus of the research interest. Back in the days of the unknown-but-surmisable ancestor to today's ferns, gibberellin was not yet part of the equation.  And instead of automatically producing light-loving valentine females, some of the primordial, simpler ferns seemed to produce males automatically and then produced hermaphrodites to mate with.  It all seems a bit like selecting yourself on an online dating service.  Gary notes that the genetic ramifications of such a non-existent choice of genes are not good.  Happily for the success of ferns, at a certain point on the developmental timeline the automatic maleness was lost and the gibberellin makes its debut. Gary's students are studying the way in which the plant hormones produce the gender of the participants in this complex dance by seeing what a gibberellin-rich environment does to the gender of a single example of a species of an early type of fern and why several growing together in a single petri dish always produces a female.  Understanding these mechanisms-and they are more complex than I'm letting on-tells us a great deal about ferns and is suggestive of the varied role that this common hormone has for most of the plant life on Earth. Ultimately, I suspect that there are also some lessons of relevance for human life.  Such as,

·         Trying to do everything yourself is ultimately an unsuccessful strategy.

·         Location, location, location-land in the light, grow big and act fast.

·         Look back along your family tree and you are bound to find a few strange relatives.

·         We are often fixated on half of the true picture-seek the other half.