A priceless partnership in biology

Student-faculty collaboration leads to successful careers

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Student-faculty collaboration. The term is prevalent on the Gettysburg College campus – often discussed with prospective families, realized by students, and cherished by alumni.

But what’s the impact of faculty working one-on-one with students to further explore their areas of scholarly interests? Dr. Greg Crawford ’95, Kalin Vasilev ’06, and Kristin Shingler ’11 know the benefits well.

Crawford, a pediatrics professor at Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, performs genomic research to understand how all of our 20,000 genes are switched on and off in different parts of the body, and in certain diseases like cancer.

Vasilev is completing his Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon University and is working to create new technology that monitors when cells touch and move apart, providing insight into memory, diseases, and brain development.

And Shingler is studying viral structure in the microbiology and immunology Ph.D. program at Penn State’s College of Medicine in Hershey, Pa.

The three devoted alums share a common bond beyond their commitment to scientific research – they were all mentored and inspired by Gettysburg College Biology Prof. Steve James ’80.

James’ collaborative research methods have propelled a generation of alumni into graduate school and motivated more than 90 students to complete for-credit independent research under his tutelage since 1992. Among roughly 20 who worked closely with him since 1995, many have undertaken doctoral studies, while others have pursued medical, dental, or veterinary schooling.

Crawford“For me, if I hadn’t met Steve James, it is highly likely that I never would have [entered] a career in research. Working in Steve’s lab opened up an entirely new world to me,” said Crawford, who researched with James the summer after his junior year. “He was always there to answer questions and help me think creatively about how to solve a problem.”

Vasilev echoed Crawford’s sentiment.

“The varied liberal arts education I received at Gettysburg College was priceless,” Vasilev said. “Prof. James and Gettysburg College were my foundation. [James’] style of mentoring was simply wonderful. He combined easy-going and relaxed lab settings with insightful one-on-one time; everything culminated in a creative environment.”

Shingler, a recent grad now using cryoelectron microscopy to study the structure of viruses, also believes her Gettysburg faculty collaboration with James opened doors for her future in biology.

Collaboration“Prof. James was assigned to be my advisor when I started at Gettysburg. He immediately gave me the opportunity to work in his laboratory as a work study student and I was grateful to have such a great opportunity to begin building my skill set,” Shingler said. “Being able to think about problems in a laboratory setting from multiple angles is a great advantage [for undergrads], and I believe the diverse training I received at Gettysburg has helped a lot.”

Today, nearly 70 percent of the College’s biology majors participate in undergraduate research, often partnering with a faculty mentor. Topics of research include cell cycle regulation, marine toxins, thyroid hormones, fish neurobiology, foraging behavior in bats, and a wide range of other subjects. Many of the research opportunities are a result of a $1.3 million grant the College was awarded in May from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

Research projects typically culminate in a campus presentation. Many students even become coauthors of research publications or present their research at regional or national meetings. For Crawford, Vasilev, and Shingler, educational experiences like these have made all the difference in their career endeavors.

“I think there are a number of strengths of a liberal arts setting like Gettysburg in terms of fostering students creativity and breadth of knowledge,” Crawford said. “The students need to see how biology isn’t just a random set of facts, but actually connects ideas and concepts together in a very logical pattern. Steve and the faculty in the Biology Department at Gettysburg do this exceptionally well, and this prepares students for a successful career in the sciences.”

Read more about alumni achievements since collaborating with James.

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition that includes Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate and other distinguished scholars among its alumni. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Mike Baker, assistant director of communications, 717.337.6521.

Posted: Thu, 28 Feb 2013

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