SERP 2014 Institute Leadership Fellows

In 2012, forty life sciences educators throughout the united states accepted a daunting but important task -- to serve as catalysts to stimulate department-wide reform in undergraduate Life Sciences programs across the country. Our work as Leadership Fellows is part of the broader project known as the Partnership for Undergraduate Life Sciences Education (PULSE), a collaborative effort of the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute for Health/National Institute for General Medical Science, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The PULSE Fellows named below are affiliated with institutions in the southeast, and we will be facilitating your work at the SERP Institute.


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Karen Aguirre, Ph.D.
I am one of two Associate Dean’s for the College of Science at Coastal Carolina University. I handle what I think is the fun stuff - student ombudsman, petitions and appeals, development/implementation of our new upper-division advising initiative, oversight of college-wide assessment team, interface with Institutional Research to develop/interpret assessment of retention and student engagement in all STEM disciplines (with special attention to under-represented groups and at-risk students), and developing high-impact practices that excite students about quantitation. It’s a lot. I’m not at all tired yet. In another life, I was Biology department chair. My degree is in Molecular Biology, and I use molecular and cellular techniques in small animal models of infectious diseases of the central nervous system. I teach a seniors Immunology seminar that is “flipped” and case-study-based and I like to write case studies for the NSF collection. I also teach the occasional freshman majors section in a way that is much too traditional and rather stodgy and in need of significant overhaul. Our SACS-COC Quality Enhancement Program involves maximizing student research experience, and I have built up that aspect of our Biology majors’ experience to about 50% of students performing independent cutting-edge research with a faculty member, or exploring an off-campus career option. I’m particularly proud of the work I’ve done with encouraging and funding mentoring experiences between our contingent faculty and students. This is a win-win proposition. Trailing PhD spouses and adjuncts and Visiting Assistant Professors are able to have research space, supplies, and eager students to help them continue to build their careers, and our students have a vastly expanded mentor pool – and that pool has plenty of women. This is important for us, as our upper division classes are predominantly female.

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Judy Awong-Taylor, Ph.D.
Welcome to Judy’s microcosm! I am Associate Dean and Professor of Biology in the School of Science and Technology at Georgia Gwinnett College, Lawrenceville, Georgia. I received my bachelor’s degree in Zoology and Botany from the University of the West Indies in Trinidad, and my master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Florida in the area of Environmental Microbiology. Prior to joining GGC, I was a Professor of Biology at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, GA and served as Interim Department Head before moving to the Board of Regents in Atlanta to serve as Director of the University System of Georgia’s STEM Initiative. Yes…. I am slowly migrating northward, but still committed to the southeast! I am passionate about teaching and committed to providing an environment that promotes student success, both in and outside the classroom. Over the many years I have involved numerous students in undergraduate research, promoted student-centered learning, engaged in K-16 collaborative activities, and collaborated with institutions throughout Georgia. Over the past ten years my microcosm and community networks have widened as I find myself more involved in STEM Education Research. Here at GGC, I have found a special niche. I have the opportunity to work with an innovative group of colleagues to shape the lives and careers of a very diverse group of students. Our current initiative is to provide undergraduate research experiences to all majors in the School of Science & Technology during all four years of their matriculation, both in the traditional sense but also through course-embedded research opportunities. What else am I passionate about? My family! I enjoy spending time with my husband, son, and dog in another microcosm filled with music, sports, fun and laughter!

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Edwin Barea Rodriguez, Ph.D.
I am a professor of neurobiology and the chair of the Department of Biology and the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). I am also the program director of the NIH-NIGMS MARC/ RISE student training programs. These programs are designed to increase the participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM disciplines. My area of research is investigating the biology of learning and memory. Being part of PULSE has been a life changing experience because I have met many colleagues who share my passion to empower students to succeed. I am very interested in expanding my research interest into STEM education research. I am married to a wonderful woman who, when I tried to court her, could not understand my Puerto Rican accent. I figure she decided to marry me because it was going to take a lifetime to figure it out. I have two teenagers, a son and daughter, and I am a new foster papa. I regret that I will be unable to attend this first SERP Institute!

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Heather J. Belmont, Ph.D.
I serve as the dean of the School of Science at Miami Dade College (MDC). In this capacity, I oversee the school's programs, curriculum, resources, and most importantly, students. Prior to taking on this role at MDC, I was faculty, chairperson of the Biology, Health/Wellness and Funeral Services Departments and director of the Biotechnology Program. Yes, my programs span cradle to grave! With the assistance of federal dollars, the School of Science is still in the midst of its "Vision and Change.” To this end (or should we say beginning), we have established an intrusive, in-house STEM advisement system, an extensive Peer-Led, Team-Learning network, and undergraduate research initiative on five of our eight campuses. Prior to joining the MDC family in 2005, I worked in the private sector for two start-up biotech companies, Sunol Molecular Corporation and Altor Bioscience Corporation, where we conducted research on therapeutic anti-viral and anti-cancer biologics. When not at the College, I enjoy spending time with my husband, daughter, and three highly energetic dogs.

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Alix Dowling Fink , Ph.D.
I am associate professor of biology and Dean of the Cormier Honors College at Longwood University. I am involved in collaborative interdisciplinary projects across the university, working with faculty in the arts and sciences and partners in student affairs. With a coauthor in physics, I developed a SENCER (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities) course model for an interdisciplinary, topic-driven general education science course known as The Power of Water (POW). A second new general education course, this one a capstone experience for the academic core, has grown from Longwood’s campus SENCER project. Exploring Public Issues through Writing is a transdisciplinary collaboration focused on the key challenges of the stewardship of our public lands, with particular emphasis on Yellowstone National Park. Four of my recent publications report on projects that are strongly SENCER oriented, including two derived from a collaborative research project by POW students and students in an introductory statistics course and two stemming from the Yellowstone project. Outside of general education, I am participating in a project to reframe the biology major curriculum through a process informed by the key findings and recommendations of the Vision and Change report, BIO2010, and other calls to action. I continue a student-centered research program in vertebrate ecology, focused specifically on the effects of disturbance on habitat use and demography of early successional birds and a range of bat species. In addition to my work on campus, I serve as a Leadership Fellow for SENCER and PULSE (Partnership in Undergraduate Life Sciences Education), and I co-direct the Chesapeake Bay SENCER Center for Innovation. In my free time, I enjoy an old farmhouse, a weedy garden, a pack of mutt dogs, and one bird-loving husband.

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Ellen Goldey, PhD
I am the William R Kenan Jr. Professor and Chair of the Biology Department at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. I earned my BS degree from the University of the South, TN and my MS and PhD degrees from Miami University, OH. Like Alix (above), I am a Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER) Leadership Fellow and have been working with SENCER since 2001. I was principal investigator on two curriculum reform projects funded by the NSF: the first adopted first year curricular learning communities integrating courses in the sciences and the humanities, and the most recent project led to transforming Wofford's first year Biology curriculum. This latter project led to Wofford receiving the 2012 Exemplary Program Award from the Association for General and Liberal Studies. Reforming our first year courses, in turn, has led to further reform throughout the department’s program. This has been a very rewarding time in my career, as I’ve had to make so many changes in my teaching practices (which was very scary at first), developed better leadership skills, and shared lessons from this journey with others who are at the outset. Somewhat surprisingly (especially to me), I was recently the co-PI on a two-institution (Wofford College and Elon University) collaborative grant from the Teagle Foundation to assess religious, non-religious, and spiritual climate on each campus -- work done in partnership with the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core. We are using this evidence to foster pluralism, which pushes us beyond tolerance to engage positively and productively with those of differing world views within our communities. What I have learned from this work has made it much easier to teach biology -- especially Evolution! I am also a member of the cadre of Wabash Teagle Assessment Scholars that assist campuses in their efforts to use assessment evidence to guide improvement. I have had the honor of receiving several teaching awards, but looking back at those I don't think I was a very good teacher at the time. Prior to coming to Wofford in 1995, I was a developmental neurotoxicologist at the US Environmental Protection Agency in RTP, NC, which was a rewarding job. But my dream was to teach undergraduates, and I feel very lucky to have ended up at Wofford. Six years ago I married Byron McCane, an archeologist, scholar of ancient religions, Albert C. Outler Professor of Religion and Chair of Wofford's Religion Department, and wonderful life partner. We recently built a LEED Gold home, and it is our refuge in the woods.

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April Hill, Ph.D.
I am a professor of biology and director of the University of Richmond’s HHMI funded Undergraduate Science Education program. In addition to leading the development of, and teaching in, interdisciplinary first-year research-centered STEM courses (Integrated Quantitative Science and Science, Math, and Research Training), I oversee a summer bridge program (University of Richmond Integrated Science Experience, URISE) that focuses on building community and research skills for incoming students who are from groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. I am passionate about undergraduate research and have advised more than 60 students in my laboratory over the past 15 years and many more students through authentic research experiences in a variety of biology courses (e.g., Evolutionary Developmental Biology, Genetics, Epigenetics, Genomics). I am an evolutionary developmental geneticist who enjoys working on interdisciplinary research collaborations. My current research uses marine and freshwater sponges as model systems to ask questions about the gene regulatory networks important in the development of animal body plans and animal symbioses. I am also a PI on the NSF funded Porifera Tree of Life Project (PORTOL). I am committed to social justice and I contribute my voice as a biologist in discussions of race at Richmond through involvement in a faculty learning community (Terms of Racial Justice). In my spare time I dream about starting an interdisciplinary research/teaching center, with my marine ecologist husband, in the Caribbean where students (via study abroad) and faculty (via sabbaticals) would come together to study real-world biological problems. I draw hope and energy from my amazing students and my three wonderful children. I look forward to welcoming you to Richmond!

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Nitya Jacob, Ph.D.
I am an Associate Professor and Chair of Biology at Oxford College of Emory University. I received her B.A. in Biology from Agnes Scott College in 1995 and my Ph.D. in Horticulture and Crop Science from The Ohio State University in 2000. I teach courses at the introductory and intermediate levels in cell biology, genetics, molecular biology, and applied biology. My research involves the study of microbial communities associated with granite outcrop plants and the regulation of nodule-expressed genes in Rhizobium-alfalfa symbiosis. I am a recipient of the AAAS and Science Inquiry-Based Instruction (IBI) Prize and the Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award. I serve on the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) as a Biology Division Councilor and have completed the American Society of Microbiology Biology Scholars Program 2011 Assessment Residency. From 2006-2012 I was the Director of the Summer Undergraduate Research at Emory (SURE) - Oxford College program. I have enjoyed working as one of the 40 Partnerships in Life Sciences Education (PULSE) Leadership Fellows selected to lead the joint initiative of HHMI, NSF, and NIH/NIGMS of national transformation in undergraduate biology education.

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Melanie Lee-Brown, Ph.D.
I have always been interested in science and love the ocean. Originally from New Jersey (yes, I own that), I moved to North Carolina to attend High Point College. After dabbling for a few years in sales, gemology and disc jockeying, I returned to school and received a Biology B.S. with a minor in teaching from NC A&T State University. I received my Ph.D. in Microbiology from N.C. State University. I participated in a three-year post-doctoral experience in the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at Wake Forest University School of Medicine under the direction of Ron Oppenheim. I have research experience in Phospholipid Molecular Dynamics, Reproductive Immunology, Microbial Genetics, and Developmental/Molecular Neurobiology. I am an Associate Professor of Biology and Director of Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors at Guilford College, where I teach Microbiology, Genetics, Biochemistry, Integrative Biology-Molecules and Cells, Research Seminar, and Introduction to Scientific Inquiry, but not all at the same time. I have also developed a networked program of undergraduate research and presentation opportunities that have taken students across the state, the country and the world to present at symposia. The focus of my research program is microbial molecular genetics where were my students and I are looking at the evolutionary relationships between nitrogen-fixing azotobacteria and related pseudomonads through phylogenetic analysis, Multi-Locus-Sequence-Typing, genome structure and metabolic profiling. I am also investigating the role of riboswitches and their use as a potential antibiotic target. I am also the Managing Editor of the Journal of the North Carolina Academy of Science, because I never have enough to do ;). I am married to Dr. Jim Brown, who teaches at N.C. State University, and we have three children. I enjoy teaching, spending time with my family, yoga, fencing, SCUBA, gardening, and planning retirement to our little piece of heaven on North Caicos TCI!

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Sandra Romano, Ph.D.
I am an associate professor of marine biology and the Interim Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at the University of the Virgin Islands, an HBCU and Land-Grant Institution serving over 2400 graduate and undergraduates on two campuses. As a coral reef biologist I was excited to join the faculty at UVI in 2000 to share my passion about coral reefs through teaching and research. Over the years I’ve developed another passion for STEM education transformation as a result of my different roles at our small institution: teaching a variety of courses for both majors and non-majors, doing research with and mentoring undergraduates and Masters students, pre-health professions advising, coordinating student development programs, Director of the Masters in Marine and Environmental Science Program, and Chair of the Dept. of Biological Sciences. My research on the molecular systematics of corals now takes backseat to my efforts in transforming undergraduate STEM education as a Dean and a PULSE Fellow.

Mary A. Smith
Mary A. Smith, PhD
I am Professor and Chair of the Department of Biology at North Carolina A & T State University. I earned my BS degree at Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD, PhD in Plant Science at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY and did postdoctoral work at Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. I am an alumnus of the BRIDGES IX Academic Leadership for Women Program, sponsored by UNC- Chapel Hill. As faculty member and chair of the Department of Biology, I have brought in more than 10 million dollars in federal funding to support research training of undergraduate and graduate students, to enhance research infrastructure, and faculty development. As research mentor and director of research training programs, I have facilitated the advancement of many undergraduate and graduate students into biomedical doctoral programs. I have been a leader in transforming the biology curriculum to embrace student-centered instruction, and in motivating biology faculty to adopt active learning practices in the classroom. The Department of Biology has become an enriched environment for undergraduate research. In collaboration with STEM Chairpersons in the College of Arts and Sciences, I have contributed to the development of a STEM Center of Excellence for Active Learning which includes a Faculty Community of Practice for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. I have organized and sponsored numerous professional development activities for faculty and students at NC A&T, high school students and teachers, and community college faculty. I am the recipient of several recognitions and awards, including a Ford Foundation Fellowship, NC-Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Outstanding Mentor Award, NC A & T State University College of Arts and Sciences Award for Excellence in Teaching, UNC Board of Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, and I am happy to be a member of the Vision and Change Leadership Fellows. I regret that I will be unable to attend this first SERP Institute!

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J. Akif Uzman, Ph.D.
I am a professor of biology & biochemistry and the interim dean of the College of Sciences & Technology at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD). I served as the chair of the Department of Natural Sciences for eight years in which professors across the sciences shared best practices in teaching, with yes, biologists most often leading the way. I came to UHD with the mindset that I wanted to bring scientific research to the undergraduate experience at this urban university that serves an enormous range of Houston’s citizens, young and older. With the help of a few colleagues, key administrators and staff, we have achieved this to the point where now we host a large student research conference and engage close to 70% of our students in independent research. My claim to fame at UHD as a department chair was the care and feeding of our State of Texas award-winning STEM program called the Scholars Academy, serving all STEM students in the college, and developing the one of the first detailed departmental assessment plans for program learning outcomes in the university. I am a developmental biologist, heart and soul, with a recent foray into the challenging world of STEM education scholarship. In Malory’s Death of Arthur, it is written that in the hunt for the Holy Grail, “each knight entered the forest where he found it the darkest.” I think many of us have done the same in STEM education but we are constantly bumping into each other in this rich and dense forest, and this according to Gandalf, “is a good thing.” I regret that I will be unable to attend this first SERP Institute!

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Susan Musante, M.A.Ed.
I earned a B.S. in Biology from Hofstra University in NY, then I entered the world of outdoor/environmental education as a teacher/naturalist and worked at a number of different residential centers, including the Barrier Island Environmental Education Center in SC, Newfound Harbor Marine Institute in FL, and Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont in TN. I went back to school to earn my M.A.Ed. in science education through Wake Forest University's Master Teacher Fellows Program, in Winston-Salem, NC. Although I did my student teaching in a high school, I actually got a job teaching middle school science in Northern Virginia and worked to bring experiential education and inquiry into the classroom. I left the formal classroom after a few years and since 1998 I have been involved in biology education reform efforts as a staff member of three professional societies, first at the Ecological Society of America, then at the American Society for Microbiology, and now with the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with amazing individual biology educators, committees, and planning groups to organize professional development events, facilitate discussions about biology education, coordinate programs for students, and develop and evaluate teaching resources, all to reach the larger goals of increasing student interest, understanding, and enthusiasm for biology. At AIBS, I am currently engaged increasing leadership capacity to improve undergraduate life science education by supporting the work of the PULSE Leadership Fellows, by increasing our collective impact through life science professional societies, and by addressing leadership needs through my work with the AIBS Education Committee.


For more information about PULSE and to join the PULSE Community, please go to http://www.pulsecommunity.org/.