December 15, 2011
Contact: Chloe Kennedy, News and New Media Writer
Not many undergraduate students get the chance to present at academic conferences, but two Maryville College juniors had the opportunity this fall, when they presented at the Appalachian College Association’s Annual Summit in Asheville, N.C.
During the Summit, MC biology majors Matthew Hale and Macey Holt, along with MC Professor of Biology Dr. Drew Crain, gave a presentation about a new type of science class for non-majors that they developed over the summer.
During the presentation, titled “Using Food and YouTube to Create an Engaging Non-Majors Biology Class,” Crain, Hale and Holt discussed the development of SCI 150: Biology for Non-Science Majors, which tackles “The Biology of Food” and teaches students the science behind the foods they eat.
“Most of the time, your traditional biology labs are not very interesting for non-science majors,” Crain said. “I wanted to come up with a topic or theme that most people are interested in and familiar with.”
Food was an obvious topic, because “it’s not intimidating,” Crain said.
Thanks to a $300,000 Congressionally-directed grant administered through the United States Department of Education (ED) and the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) program to fund a new Undergraduate Science Education and Research Institute at Maryville College, Crain, Hale and Holt spent the summer developing the class.
In addition to coming up with labs for students to do during class, they also came up with ideas for shooting 11 instructional videos that serve as either pre-lab demonstrations or as supplemental materials for Crain to use during lectures. The videos, which have been uploaded to Crain’s YouTube channel, tackle subjects such as electrolyte quantification, lactose intolerance and evolution, measuring DNA in strawberries, biodiversity and genetically modified crops.
As the team worked together over the summer, Crain thought that the Appalachian College Association’s Annual Summit (the organization’s major meeting where professors and researchers present on topics that could benefit others in the field)
would be the perfect venue to present the idea, as well as early assessment data, to other colleagues at colleges throughout the region. After submitting a proposal, Crain received a reply from Summit organizers, asking if he and the students would be willing to give an hour-long presentation that featured some of the activities they developed.
In addition to describing using pancakes to illustrate evolution and the making of mozzarella cheese to show enzyme function, the Maryville College students made potato candy (popular at Dollywood) while explaining how it perfectly demonstrates osmosis.
“Other professors were delighted, both with the idea and the delicious potato candy,” Crain said.
Crain said it is very unusual for undergraduate students to present during the normal Summit presentation times. There is a student poster session and a student presentation section at the Summit, but the team presented during the hour-long breakout sessions.
“Indeed, the only undergraduate students that I have seen present during these sessions have been from Maryville College,” the professor said.
There are two reasons that presenting at such a meeting is important for Maryville College students, according to Crain.
“First, communication skills are of paramount importance for any student entering a career, and presenting at a high-profile meeting allows Maryville College students to hone these communication skills,” Crain explained. “Second, we have a responsibility to share our innovative ideas with others – as the MC mission statement says, we prepare students for a life of creativity and service to the peoples of the world. Matthew, Macey, and I established a creatively effective new biology course, and we hope that other institutions will benefit from our labors.”
Crain said that he, Hale and Holt received “much positive feedback.” In fact, one professor said he planned to propose such a class at his institution.
“I heard another professor encourage Matthew and Macey to stay in academics because, he said, ‘We need intelligent, passionate scientists like them in academia,’” Crain said. “I can’t think of any greater praise that my students could receive.”
Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state‘s third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for its academic rigor and its focus on the liberal arts, Maryville is where students come to stretch their minds, stretch themselves and learn how to make a difference in the world. Total enrollment for the fall 2012 semester was 1,093.