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UMFK and UMPI students plan scientific summit

November 11, 2005

NR05180

Genetics students from the Universities of Maine at Fort Kent and Presque Isle are taking their classes on the road for a scientific summit of sorts later this month.

About 30 students and their professors will participate in the joint genetics consortium from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., Friday, November 18, at the Eureka Hall in Stockholm, a location at the near midpoint between the two campuses.

"My class and I are looking forward to this meeting," said Dr. Kim Borges, UMFK, assistant professor of environmental science. "By merging our classes for a day, the students will have a chance to share their experiences with fellow geneticists. Although Bonnie and I teach similar course content, our approaches to teaching genetics are different, and so our students have participated in unique activities in each class. This meeting will give all of our students an opportunity to learn from one another."

"This is great for both classes," Dr. Bonnie Wood, UMPI professor of biology, said. "Any opportunity for students to share what they have learned with other students is an important experience. As any educator knows, explaining something to someone else is the best way to learn."

At UMFK, students in Dr. Kim Borges' genetics class have been engaged in actual DNA cloning experiments using modern molecular biology techniques and bacterium found around campus collected and cultured from drinking fountains, dining hall surfaces, telephone receivers and soil samples.

At the consortium the UMFK students will present a short description of the mechanics of the cloning experiment, followed by a discussion of their organism's characteristics and intriguing features.

"The students are actually trying to isolate, clone, and sequence a particular gene from bacteria samples collected from around campus. We are just in the isolation and cloning phase now, and we are encountering some glitches, as often happens in research," said Borges.

The UMFK students plan to send the cloned DNA to the University of Maine DNA sequencing facility in Orono.

"Then my students will search the online DNA databases to try to identify their microorganisms based on the sequence of this particular gene," said Borges.

Students in Wood's UMPI genetics class have worked this semester on describing a teaching model for a molecular biology process or laboratory procedure.

"Students develop and demonstrate their model to the rest of the class," Wood said. "Most of the model topics, based on assigned scientific articles from the American Biology Teacher or the Journal of College Science Teaching, are interactive requiring considerable class participation."

During the semester, each genetics' student at UMPI is responsible for presenting two different teaching models to the rest of their class.

"Through the models students learn about the processes or procedures before they are examined in a laboratory exercise," Woods said.

At the consortium, the UMPI students will select a teaching model they found particularly effective and helpful to guide UMFK students through an activity. Ideally, they plan to include actual UMFK course content in the presentation.

"Dr. Wood's class will be presenting an interactive model of a cell division process that is intricate and can be difficult to understand," said Borges. "I'm hoping that my students will find it easier to understand and remember this process after working with the UMPI students."

Given the relative small size of the two campuses, joint activities like the consortium allow faculty members, like Wood and Borges, who may be the only ones teaching a particular course, the chance to network and for the students to experience different teaching methods.

"Dr. Borges and I have been cooperating around our genetics classes for years," Wood said. "I find it very helpful to share information and ideas with a colleague who is teaching a similar course at another university (and) who has background and skills that I do not and vice versa. We try to strengthen both of our courses by cooperating."

Following the presentations, Wood said that each student is required to prepare a one page paper outlining what they learned and to discuss how working with other campuses impacted their overall learning of the material.