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 spi