#SciComm, Tiny Earth, and Sacramento State
Spring 2020 started as one of my best semesters in recent years at Sacramento State. Why? Well, lots of things. Each year that I work as a faculty member comes with different personal and professional challenges. And, this semester felt like I was going to turn the corner on some big projects I had in mind. One of those big projects was BIO 145: Diversity of Microorganisms, a class I teach each Spring. Finally, so many things came together for this class. We have a brand new building, with a sizeable advanced microbiology lab. Access to new equipment made it easier for students to make progress on their projects. Our more extended lab meeting time of twice per week for nearly 3 hours at a time was ideal for discovery. But, more importantly, the time allowed us to form a community of student researchers ready to embark on a scientific journey.
The student researchers in BIO 145 embarked on a journey with the Tiny Earth Network, where they worked as collaborative to isolate antibiotic-producing bacteria from soil. The goals of the Tiny Earth Network are two-fold: 1) to crowdsource antibiotic discovery, and 2) to inspire the next generation of STEM students. To date, Sacramento State students isolated 267 antibiotic-producing bacteria, and the current 2020 cohort of students isolated 172 of these. Research, as always, has its ups and downs. We certainly had some of those. But students recovered, found different strategies, and completed so much of the experiment that we were weeks ahead of schedule! As a scientist and professor, this excited me. We were all reaching new territory. Well, until COVID-19.
On March 11th, I remember telling my students that I had a feeling this would be the last time that we would meet in person. I hadn't heard of any announcements, I didn't know what was happening at the time, but I had a feeling that we would not be back in the classroom. We completed our first steps
to chemical extractions that day. I told the students, let's keep them in the freezer, and we will come back to them. We never returned to the lab after this date. The samples are still in the freezer, waiting for scientists to go back and process them.
Moving a nearly 6 hour a week lab class online in five days was overwhelming. This class is my first time teaching online. What to do? What not to do? In hindsight, there are so many things I would do differently. However, one thing I did do is ask the students for ideas and had them work with me on formulating a plan for the rest of the semester. I am so glad I did!
As a result of these conversations came the #SciComm Project as the culminating experience for BIO 145 instead of a traditional research poster presentation. I developed parameters for the assignment, and students chose to write blogs, create videos, generate original artwork, and come up with funny memes. That is what I will display on this blog and our social media pages @SacState_TEN on both Twitter and Instagram in the next few days.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to teach this group of students. Most of them are graduating seniors are will not have a traditional commencement ceremony this year. Others will continue in the Fall in hopes of being in the laboratory again. I don't know what the future holds for all of us, but I feel great comfort in knowing this group of students will do great things. I believe the future will be bright because of them.
This last paragraph is for the students of Spring 2020 BIO 145: Thank you. Thank you for being an excellent class. Thank you for being your authentic selves and working together as a team. Thank you for allowing me to take what seemed like a million photos of you working in the lab. And, thank you for showing me great kindness.
Until we meet again,