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Curriculum reform and BioCats Through the years, NMSU-HHMI has supported significant outreach efforts, curriculum reforms and opportunities for undergraduates to play crucial roles in research programs. The program’s innovative efforts can be seen early on in introductory biology courses, which feature a spin on the traditional large lecture format by supporting “flipped” classrooms that focus on groups of students evaluating and discussing the application of biology to case studies. Additionally, instead of lecturing to 200 students three times a week, one lecture is replaced with a small, 20-student workshop taught by peer facilitators called BioCats, or Biology Learning Catalysts. The BioCats are upper-level undergraduate students who are also present during other lower-level biology courses to assist students when they break into small groups. “The integration of student peer


NMSU was selected and secured its spot as an HHMI research-intensive university, receiving more than $5 million in grants and reaching thousands of students through a variety of programs since 2006. “Receiving this funding is recognition that we’re doing cutting-edge work in terms of promoting scientific literacy amongst our students, and providing access to science education for undergraduates,” says Ralph Preszler, program director for NMSU-HHMI and department head for biology in the College of Arts and Sciences. Sharing a list with Ivy League schools like Yale and Harvard, NMSU is one of only 40 universities nationwide to have a current HHMI undergraduate education program. The university also set a precedent as one of the first large, state-funded institutions to gain HHMI affiliation.

NMSU biology student Nubia Bermudez, right, presents her research poster to Darien Pruitt, left, during the lab component of an NMSU-HHMI undergraduate guided biological research class in Foster Hall. Student Matthew Griffin appears in the background presenting his poster to biology professor Tim Wright.

instructors into the introductory biology courses has had a transformative effect on the way we teach biology to incoming students,” says Brad Shuster, associate professor of biology and NMSU-HHMI faculty mentor. This trend also fits well with an emerging emphasis at HHMI, which highlights a need to diversify the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, workforce at a national scale.

Research Scholars Program

The research course prepares students to join the Research Scholars Program, which is designed for select juniors and seniors interested in gaining an in-depth understanding of the nature of research in the biological sciences. The NMSU-HHMI program sponsors 10 to 25 students per year to work alongside faculty mentors from various NMSU labs across a number of departments, including biology;

NMSU-HHMI Guided Research Course • • • • •

$200,000: HHMI-funded remodel of NMSU teaching lab Designed for 24 sophomore-level students Exposes students to authentic research within a classroom setting Varying biological subjects, depending on rotating professor’s research focus Prepares students for the Research Scholars Program

20 Panorama | New Mexico State University | Spring 2016

psychology; plant and environmental sciences; animal and range sciences; fish, wildlife and conservation ecology; entomology, plant pathology and weed science; and chemistry and biochemistry. The program not only provides students in STEM fields an intensive laboratory research experience, but it also offers them opportunities to work independently and in groups to solve problems. This allows students to develop intellectually, while gaining analytical, organizational and communication skills. “Students get introduced to the experience and culture of academic research,” says Graciela Unguez, professor of biology and NMSU-HHMI faculty mentor. “Through learning and applying the method and process of scientific research, students get a good foundation to make an informed decision about whether or not they would like to apply for a more in-depth research experience after they graduate.”

Today’s research scholars

Linday Selters, a biology major and one of 25 current NMSU-HHMI research scholars, spent the last academic year working with Unguez. Selters’ research focus is the Sternopygus macrurus, an electric fish native to South America. In her project, Selters examines

Panorama - Spring 2016  

Panorama is NMSU's Alumni and Friends magazine. To read the current issue, visit To view the Fall 2016 issue as a...

Panorama - Spring 2016  

Panorama is NMSU's Alumni and Friends magazine. To read the current issue, visit To view the Fall 2016 issue as a...