Posts Tagged ‘science’

With a love for research and a dream to discover some of the world’s future diseases or treatments, St. Petersburg College student Salwa Shamsi wants to make a difference with her life through work in the field of microbiology.

On Saturday, Dec. 13, Shamsi, 22, will cross the stage to receive her Associate in Arts degree. But the path hasn’t been easy; she had to overcome cultural and language differences along the way.

SPC student Salwa Shamsi graduates with an Associate in Arts microbiology transfer degree on Saturday, Dec. 13.

SPC student Salwa Shamsi graduates with an Associate in Arts microbiology transfer degree on Saturday, Dec. 13.

St. Petersburg College’s Fall graduation ceremonies will be at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 13 at the First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks, 12685 Ulmerton Road, Largo. Salwa Shamsi, Clearwater Campus, will represent the A.A./A.S. graduates at the afternoon ceremony while Kathleen Bryan will represent the B.S./B.A.S. graduates. Each ceremony should last about an hour and a half.

“I had very little strength in the English language, and I really was not familiar with the culture here,” said Shamsi, who attended the Clearwater adult education center for four months to improve her English language skills before enrolling in SPC’s English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program.

“So when I look at myself now and compare it to four years ago, I see that I have really improved a lot in language, personality, and overall everything,” she said.

Born in Eau Claire, Wis., Shamsi was raised in Saudi Arabia and Syria with her family. After graduating high school in Saudi Arabia, she came back to the U.S. with her younger sister in 2010 to live with her grandparents and continue her education.

During her time at St. Petersburg College, Shamsi got involved in student life on campus, joining Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and the Undergraduate Science Research Society student club. Originally focused on a pharmacy track, she discovered her passion for research during her time at SPC.

“And since I am a member of the undergraduate research society club, I got involved in the research. I enjoyed it a quite a bit,” she said. “I loved going around collecting samples, processing samples, then observing the results. So I kept in mind that I want to do more research in the future.”

In February, along with her Undergraduate Science Research Society colleagues, Shamsi helped conduct research about the antibiotic-resistant bacteria MRSA. The goal was to discover how much of a presence the bacteria had on cell phones, cash and credit cards.

“You can’t imagine how much I loved going around to collect samples, run my samples, and then finally get the exciting results,” she said. “That’s also why I changed my major to microbiology. I am very excited to experience more about microbiology and get involved in more research.”

After graduation, Shamsi plans to enroll at the University of South Florida to earn a bachelor’s degree in microbiology. Further down the road, her goal is to earn a doctorate in cancer biology or immunology with a microbiology concentration.

“I want to know and understand all there is to know about all the causes for diseases around us,” said Shamsi. “I want to understand the treatments for these specific diseases because I am hoping that one day I’ll reach my goal.”

SPC Undergraduate Science Research Society students Salwa Shamsi and Maria Hernandez participate during a research project about MRSA.

From left: SPC Undergraduate Science Research Society students Salwa Shamsi and Maria Hernandez participate during a research project about MRSA.

According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, women made up 26 percent of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workforce in 2011. In life and physical science, they made up 41 percent of the workforce. Shamsi is excited to be able to pursue her passion for science and research and join the growing trend of women in a historically male-dominated field.

“I want to prove to society and the community that a woman can do it because men are not better than women,” she said. “It’s what I love and I want to do it.”

She said she wants other women to feel inspired to do the same.

“No matter what their goals, no matter whatever the field is, they can do it,” Shamsi said. “We’re in the 21st century; this is 2014. Women can do it. We can go ahead and we can rise.”

Shamsi will serve as the lower division speaker for one of the two commencement ceremonies at First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks, 12685 Ulmerton Road, Largo.

Read Full Post »

Tampa Bay Times coverage

Bay News 9’s coverage

To help strengthen the skills of Tampa Bay’s future workforce, St. Petersburg College will award $520,000 in scholarships through a National Science Foundation grant to academically talented and financially disadvantaged students who pursue degrees in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math.

The initiative will support students as they earn a degree and find employment in STEM fields. The grant will target women and minorities, who have been historically underrepresented in those areas. The program, called Tampa Bay SEEDS (Scholarships for Education & Employment Development in STEM) will also help fill a crucial gap in skilled workers in the Tampa Bay area, Florida and the United States.

“This grant demonstrates SPC’s deep commitment to accessible, learner-centered instruction and STEM education,” said President Bill Law. “The program will ensure a diverse applicant pool for potential STEM scholars at our college. It is very exciting for me personally because the project harmonizes with a student success initiative called The College Experience.”

Through the grant, students will engage in The College Experience by using integrated academic and career advising, tutoring centers, a project-specific orientation and career mentoring. Over the five-year grant, 80 students will be selected to take an employment-centered curriculum that includes job shadowing and internships. Students will work with newly created Campus Faculty Champions, who will give each student a “road map to graduation.” Using this road map, students will identify academic goals, determine which academic support services they need and investigate STEM careers.

“St. Petersburg College is to be commended on its efforts to help students achieve success through a higher education in STEM,” wrote Abdul Lateef, chief executive officer for local manufacturing firm Plasma-Therm, in a letter of support for the project. “This one project could have a lasting impact on the Tampa Bay region and help prepare future workers for high-demand careers in STEM.”

At the state level, Florida will need 120,000 new STEM workers by 2018, according to the Florida Department for Economic Opportunity. In addition, Enterprise Florida estimates that 15 out of the 20 fastest growing job fields in the state will require a STEM education.

Locally, a study commissioned in 2011 by the Tampa Bay Partnership projects that job growth in the high technology electronics and instruments industry and marine and environmental industries will grow by 10% by 2020, resulting in 22,000 new jobs. This report also notes there are 19 billion-dollar corporate headquarters in the Tampa Bay area, with four being Fortune 500 companies. Recently, several national technology companies have located facilities in the area and need an educated workforce with STEM skills.

“We are keenly aware of the worrisome shortage of new graduates entering the workforce in the STEM fields,” said Ed Peachey, president and CEO of CareerSource Pinellas. “We are pleased that as students in the Tampa Bay region look to transition to an institution of higher learning, they will find an abundance of STEM training and degree opportunities at St. Petersburg College. For years, SPC has demonstrated its commitment to STEM and to helping attract a diverse group of students.”

SPC will bring its prior experience with STEM scholarship programs to bear, since it has ten years’ experience with similar National Science Foundation grants and initiatives. For example, from 2007 to 2011, Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM) were awarded to 152 students, exceeding the project’s goal of 100.

The $6,500 individual scholarships will be available beginning Spring 2015.



Read Full Post »

Students enrolled in the Spring 2014 Field Biology of Florida course at St. Petersburg College spend time at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.

SPC students in the Spring 2014 Field Biology of Florida course spend time at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.

For students enrolled in Jennifer Fernandes’ field biology class, their classroom is everywhere and class activities involve everything from snorkeling reefs in Key Largo to collecting scorpions in the woods.

In SPC’s Field Biology of Florida class (BSC 2250C), hands-on learning is the instructional method of choice. Students spend only the first day in an actual classroom – the rest of their semester is spent in idyllic outdoor environments across the state.

SPC students enrolled in Field Biology of Florida study the relative abundance of plant species using different transect methods.

Students study the relative abundance of plant species using different transect methods.

“Field Biology is taught in a different format than most courses in that all of our lectures are done in the field all over Florida,” said Fernandes, Assistant Professor of Biology who has been teaching the class at the Tarpon Springs Campus since Fall 2010.

While looking for a way to engage her students in active student learning and success, she recognized that students learn best when they get their hands dirty. So she opted to take her instruction out of the classroom and into the environments they would be studying.

“It’s been helpful to really get a hands-on experience way of learning,” said Andrew Hamblin, 28, a public safety administration student who transferred from Hillsborough Community College in time for the Spring 2014 term. He thinks learning from direct experience is more effective than traditional learning because Fernandes is able to point out specifics in terminology and processes rather than just having students read from a book.

“You can see what is written on paper but you can’t really understand how it works in the same way,” Hamblin said.

Class field trips vary in content and location depending on the time of year and weather. The spring term often includes weekend camping trips while summer offers snorkeling and winter brings manatees to study.

“In this type of setting, every single student is engaged and they’re all interested in learning because of the different modality,” said Fernandes, who wanted to create a course that would make science interesting for majors and non-majors alike.

Since taking learning outside the classroom, students have journeyed to:

  • Crystal River
  • Rainbow Springs
  • Honeymoon Island State Park
  • Caladesi Island State Park
  • Weedon Island Preserve
  • Highlands Hammock State Park
  • Turtle Hospital
  • Little Manatee River State Park
  • Kissimmee River Restoration
  • Wekiwa Springs State Park
  • Hillsborough River
  • John Chesnut Sr. Park
Students in the Summer 2014 course during a snorkel trip to Rainbow Springs, where they learned about aquifer and spring ecology.

Students in the Summer 2014 course during a snorkel trip to Rainbow Springs, where they learned about aquifer and spring ecology.

During local trips, students carpool to local parks and preserves. For more distant trips, SPC transports students in college vans to locations like Key Largo, Everglades National Park and Topsail Hill State Preserve.

“This class definitely put all of us students in areas that we were able to better understand what we were being taught in regards to the ecology, the plants and animals, and the different natures of the areas that we visited,” Hamblin said.

Students also engage in active learning through volunteer work, like collecting scorpions for research and creating oyster domes for Tampa Bay Watch, a nonprofit organization dedicated to habitat restoration and protection.

“This way they have a different idea of what science truly is,” Fernandes said. “It’s not something that’s boring. They understand it’s actually very hands-on every day, and it helps them make better decisions in life.”

Because of the logistics involved with teaching the course, the class size is capped at 20 students. An additional benefit of this smaller setting means students work more closely with fellow students and develop better working relationships with their peers.

“Every semester, the students absolutely love the class,” said Fernandes. “The biggest things they say is that they learn so much more than they would in a regular classroom setting; that they actually retain the information and develop friendships in a class that they would never have done before.”

Hamblin enjoys the camaraderie he experiences in the class.

“When you do other classes, typically you’re just there to do the work and you don’t associate with many of the other students,” he said. “However, this class really kind of brings that all together where you’re talking and discussing all the subjects with all the students.”

“We’re all communicating and helping one another out and having a great time together,” he said.

Read Full Post »

Michelle Osovitz stands with students at Mason Metals Studio in Tampa

Michelle Osovitz, far left, joins students at Mason Metals Studio in Tampa.

Looking for a way to make learning about science fun, St. Petersburg College biology professor Michelle Osovitz recently teamed up with other faculty members to immerse students in a world of art and science integration outside the classroom.

With the help of a grant from the SPC Foundation, students learned how to create kinetic or moving jewelry to demonstrate the concepts of science and mathematics involved in making it.

Studio owner Lorrie Mason demonstrates mathematical calculations of kinetic ring construction to SPC students Riccardo Carelli and Lexi Creasy at Mason Metals Studio in Tampa.

Studio owner Lorrie Mason demonstrates mathematical calculations of kinetic ring construction to SPC students Riccardo Carelli and Lexi Creasy at Mason Metals Studio in Tampa.

Osovitz, who teaches in the bachelor’s program at the Clearwater Campus, said she wants students – regardless of their major – to realize that science doesn’t have to be feared or loathed.

“We are actively enhancing the learning experience at SPC by creating an environment both inside and outside the classroom that fosters application of scientific principles in creative arts disciplines,” Osovitz said.

A kinetic spinner ring is actually a combination of two rings – one band that moves or spins around the other one freely. Because they move, they are called kinetic rings. To make the rings, students incorporated numerous scientific concepts, including:

  • geology in working with gemstones
  • chemistry in determining the properties of the copper, silver and steel
  • mathematics in designing and creating the jewelry
  • scientific methods in the overall project

Integrating art and science enhances students’ experience and can make the field of science less intimidating, Osovitz said. Applying what students have learned to create art allows them to develop critical thinking skills, exercise creativity and increase long-term retention.

According to Osovitz, studies have shown that students who engage in interactive projects that combine science and art tend to understand scientific principles better.

As part of the jewelry making project, students kept an art notebook to record calculations, information about various metal properties and sketches. Upper level students were encouraged to incorporate their art into term papers or poster presentations.

Examples of kinetic "spinner" rings created by SPC students.

Examples of kinetic “spinner” rings created by SPC students.

Students who completed the design modules were invited to Mason Metals Studio in Tampa on June 4 to complete their jewelry pieces.

The initiative was funded by an SPC Foundation Grant for Creative Integration of Art and Science. Osovitz joined fellow science faculty members Erin Goergen, Shannon McQuaig and Monica Lara in applying for the grant, which seeks to teach students technical skills in microbiology, biochemistry and molecular biology. McQuaig led students in a project earlier this year about pigments found in bacteria.

“We are all passionate about incorporating creativity and artistic thinking in the teaching of our science courses,” Osovitz said. “As a result, it has become apparent that incorporating art into the science curriculum will not only benefit our students but the professional development of our faculty as well.”

“We are encouraging collaboration across disciplines including physical and life science as well as the art department here at Clearwater,” said Jonathan Barnes, academic chair of Humanities and Fine Arts at the Clearwater Campus.

“On a personal level, it helps us to think about the way we present complex scientific principles in the classroom in a way that our students can relate to,” said Osovitz.

Read Full Post »

Bay Pines Learning Center

St. Petersburg College will receive $2.5 million this year from the state to complete its Bay Pines Learning Center, a hands-on science learning complex adjacent to the Intracoastal Waterway in Pinellas County. The funding was included in Florida’s $77 billion budget, which the Florida Legislature passed May 2 and Gov. Rick Scott signed on Monday.

The Learning Center will provide undergraduate research opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) for students, professional development for faculty and teachers and an engaging outlet for the community to interact with and participate in science.

“This will be a completely new environment for studying environmental and marine science,” said John Chapin, Dean of Natural Science at SPC. “This environment will get people excited about science. It’s designed to raise enthusiasm about the natural world and further studies in science, not just among our students, but all students, including elementary, middle and high schoolers.”

The project received $2.5 million from the legislature last year, which helped cover planning and permitting. The $5 million project will eventually include:

  • A traditional classroom building that can be divided into two rooms. Each classroom space will support both class and laboratory activities.
  • A building to house ongoing, independent student research projects
  • A multi-purpose building with capacity for 100 participants

Facilities also will include a docking area for small boats, a terrace and an area with saltwater tanks for unloading and cleaning specimens.

The center will better prepare teachers in STEM areas by offering certificates, in-service training and summer institutes to teachers, teaching assistants and administrators. It also aims to increase scientific literacy and life-long learning in science among students and community members.

Officials hope that by offering summer camps for middle and high school students, a venue for science fairs, and citizen science projects, students and their families will connect with nature and science.

STEM education is crucial, as those who work in these fields drive innovation, generate technological advances and play a key role in the growth and stability of the U.S. economy. Over the next ten years, these areas are expected to create 1.2 million jobs, but American business owners are increasingly concerned about a shortage of qualified workers for them.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration:

  • 7 of the 10 projected fastest-growing occupations over the next 10 years will be in STEM fields
  • STEM occupations have grown 8 percent in the last 10 years (2000-2010) and are expected to grow twice as fast (17 percent) in the next 10 years, compared to 9.8 percent for non-STEM occupations.
  • 16 of the 25 highest-paying jobs in 2010 required STEM preparation
  • STEM workers earn 26 percent more than their non-STEM peers.
  • A vast majority (80 percent) of jobs in the next decade will require technology skills.

At the Bay Pines Learning Center, SPC will collaborate with Admiral Farragut Academy, the City of Seminole, the Florida Institute of Oceanography, Pinellas County Schools and the U.S. Geological Society to bolster research activities, which has been shown to increase levels of engagement, success and degree completion.

At SPC, students can earn the following:

Read Full Post »

Salina Som, a senior at St. Petersburg Collegiate High School, has been named a Gates Millennium Scholar for the Class of 2014. More than 52,000 students applied for this honor which distinguishes her as a Leader for America’s Future™.

Aimed at helping minority students with financial needs for college funding, the Gates Millennium Scholarship program also provides academic support, leadership training and professional development for the 1,000 students chosen nationwide each year.

Salina’s strong leadership, community service and academic achievements contributed to her selection.

As a Gates Millennium Scholar, Salina will receive a scholarship to attend any accredited college or university in the United States. The renewable scholarship initially funds undergraduate studies, and can also fund Salina’s education through the master’s and doctoral levels.

This is the second consecutive year that St. Petersburg College has produced a Gates Millennium Scholar. Maria Thurber won the award last year and is now a student at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., studying international relations.

Salina plans to pursue a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Florida followed by a doctorate in Pharmaceutical Engineering. She discovered her passion for the lab in a Organic Chemistry class at St. Petersburg College’s Collegiate High School.

“One of the last labs was a multi-synthisis lab for Acetanilide, which is aspirin,” she said. “On the last day of the lab I just put the flask down and the crystals started forming from the solution. It was really big crystals because it was pure. I was so excited. It was the first real drug I synthsized.”

Exposure to college science labs and a research paper on the Evolution of Drug Discovery also fueled her passion for medicine.

Born in Cambodia, her family moved to Boston when she was 3 months old and then to St. Petersburg when she was in first grade. Her father, Savonn Som, just celebrated 10 years on the custodial staff at St. Petersburg College. Her father is still trying to take it all in.


Savonn Som and his daughter, Salina

“I can’t tell you because it is too much,” he said. “My whole life I never thought about something like this.”

After escaping from Cambodia and then to Thailand and eventually America, he never even dreamed of things like having a car or getting an education. He gives his daughter all the credit.

“I just worked hard to put her in school,” he said.

Salina came to SPC as a high school sophomore from St. Petersburg High School’s pre IB program.

“It was a great program but just not a good fit for me,” she said. “Here I found more hands-on learning. The teachers gave me more attention when I needed help. It was less competitive and more collaborative.”

“I am so proud of Salina,” said SPCHS Principal Starla Metz. “She is a humble and hardworking student who is most deserving of this honor.”


Read Full Post »

drum6The drumbeats were steady and deliberate, echoing through the halls of SPC’s Midtown Campus. Within minutes, students who had never seen a West African Djembe or Ashiko drum were enthralled, captivated by the rhythm they were creating in the room.

“It’s going to get loud in here,” said facilitator and drum circle leader Steve Turner as he welcomed students to Meg Delgato’s Biological Issues class earlier this semester.

It got so loud, in fact, that they were soon asked to drum outside, where students who had not participated much in class came alive.

“I’m not really a science person, but I love music,” said Antonio Williams, who is studying business. “To be able to combine something I don’t like with something I do like was great.”

See what the students in Meg Delgato’s Biological Issues class learned by combining music and science.
May 1
11 a.m.to 1:30 p.m.
Royal Theater, 1011 22nd St. S
across from the Midtown campus

“This was one science class I knew I couldn’t do without,” said Devin Plant, who graduates this semester and plans to study psychology. “We’re making it scientific and finding out it’s fun.”

Those words are, ahem, music to Delgato’s ears.

With the help of a $3,500 Innovation Grant from the St. Petersburg College Foundation, Delgato created the semester-long class project called Instrumental Change: Using Drum Circles to Teach the Art of Science. Through the grant, students in her Midtown and Tarpon Springs classes partnered with staff from Giving Tree Music to research and investigate connections between art, music and science.

On May 1, from 11 a.m.to 1:30 p.m., her Midtown students will host a school-community drum circle event at the Royal Theater to unveil what they learned.

“Drumming helps people heal physically, boosts their immune system, creates a feeling of well-being and releases emotional trauma,” said student Lashondala Teagle, who plans on becoming a teacher. “It’s great for stress release and anxiety, which is why we’re holding our event around finals week.”

Teagle has worked with Turner before, when he visited the YMCA where she works.

“The kids love it,” she said. “It brings out the kid in all of us.”

Through Giving Tree Music, Turner sells his hand-made drums and leads “drum circles for human empowerment” for businesses, schools, at-risk youth, special needs groups, festivals and corporate team building seminars. He finds the energy incomparable.

“People make such powerful connections when they drum together,” said Turner, a graduate of SPC. “This really shows the power of teamwork and what it can do.”


Making science accessible

Ultimately, Delgato wants to make her Biological Issues class mean something more than checking a box to fulfill a life science requirement. She wants her students to make strong connections with science so they are prepared for a world that is flooded with information.

“The one thing I want to give my students is scientific literacy so they can make sense of the information they are bombarded with on a daily basis,” said Delgato, who has received Innovation Grants the past three years for various learning projects. “They need to be able to know what’s going on and be equipped to analyze the source of the information, not just accept things at face value.”

As voters and citizens, students continually make decisions about their communities and issues that affect them, like hurricane threats, air pollution, land usage, endangered species, flooding, waste, genetically altered food and pesticides, among others, Delgato said.

“I wanted to find innovative ways to make learning relevant and meaningful to them. Most of them won’t go to work in the sciences, and they have not had positive experiences in other science classes. But at the end of the day there are some very basic skills that we all need because the information that comes out of the sciences drives all that we know and do.”

What students discovered

In their research, students found studies that say drumming is a valuable treatment for chronic conditions such as stress, fatigue, anxiety, hypertension, asthma, chronic pain, arthritis, mental illness, migraines, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, paralysis, emotional disorders and a wide range of physical disabilities.

As for relieving stress, medical researchers have found that drumming increases the production and release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones like melatonin, norepinephrine, serotonin and prolactin into the bloodstream, which may contribute to patients’ relaxed and calm mood.

Students will present these findings, along with the cultural and historical aspects of drumming at their event.

“You’re really helping yourself when you do the research,” Teagle said. “Plus you can share all this research with your family and friends. It was a lot of work but it was fun. I’m comfortable with science now.”

Why scientific literacy matters

Being able to discern fact from fiction is a crucial skill in our advancing civilization. Consider:

  • A week’s worth of the New York Times contains more information today than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime in the 18th century.
  • In every minute of 2012 there were:
    • 72 hours of video posts
    • 347 blog posts
    • 700,000 Facebook entries
    • 30,000 tweets
    • 2 million e-mails sent
    • 12 million text messages
  • More data cross the Internet every second than were stored in the entire Internet 20 years ago.
  • There are currently 2.1 billion pages on the World Wide Web.

Sources: International Data Corporation, Harvard Business Review and MIT Technology Review

Credibility: What makes a good source

To check the credibility of sources, particularly on the Internet, Delgato recommends looking at the following.

  • Timeliness – when was the information published?
  • Authors – who wrote it? Are they clearly identified? What is their background? Do they have biases?
  • Authority – does the domain use edu, .gov, .org, or .net? (These are often more credible sources than .com.)

Read Full Post »

Students fish seining (netting) and going through their catch at Howard Park.

Students fish seining (netting) and going through their catch at Howard Park.

From cave rappelling to fossil gazing, the Science Adventurer’s Club at St. Petersburg College makes experiential learning fun and interactive for all students.

The Science Adventurer’s Club is one of three student science clubs at the Clearwater Campus. In this environment, students who are interested in natural sciences can participate in research projects, field trips, lectures and community service activities. They do not have to be science majors to participate—all that is required is a passion for learning an interest in all things science.

The club got its start about three years ago when students were dissatisfied that there wasn’t an extracurricular opportunity for students to enjoy science together in a social environment.

“On several occasions, students in my science classes made comments about how they wished there was some place they could hang out and speak with other students about science,” said Monica Lara, Instructor of Natural Science at the Clearwater Campus. She is one of the club’s four faculty advisors, along with Clearwater Campus instructors Carl Opper, Erin Goergen and Mike Stumpe.

Science clubs at SPC include:

  • Environmental Consulting Society – SPC Downtown
  • Environmental Science Club – Seminole Campus
  • Sustainability Club – Tarpon Springs Campus
  • Science Adventurer’s Club – Clearwater Campus
  • Undergraduate Science Research Society – Clearwater Campus
  • Tri-Beta National Biological Honor Society – Clearwater Campus

Lara’s teaching assistant, Michael Goltz, who often was present when these conversations took place, asked whether she would be willing to serve as a club advisor if students started a new club. Goltz, who ended up serving as the club’s first president, has remained connected to the club even though he is now a student at the University of South Florida.

“I agreed to it because I thought it would be a lot of fun and that there had been a lot of people hinting that it was something they would be interested in,” Lara said. “It supplements a lot of what we discuss in class and helps it make more sense.”

Lara said the club also fosters a collaborative culture among the students. In this environment, students primarily learn from each other. As they share their experiences, they teach one another best practices on how to go about taking on various tasks and projects.

“We do have some fun, adventurous trips, but the main focus is that students have to do the science,” she said. Through the club’s many field trips, including rappelling into the Dames Caves in Citrus County, students learn about geology, sea level rises and drops, ecology and conservation.

In addition to field trips, students also participate in volunteer projects such as science fairs, beach and reef cleanups, and Marine Science Day at the University of South Florida. These opportunities and experiences allow students to network with professionals in the field and prepare them for the workforce or graduate level work.

Students also benefit from the club’s partnership with Lara’s out-of-class research group and Reef Monitoring, a 501(c)(3) non-profit research organization that she helped establish with SPC instructor Heyward Mathews in 2005.

“I enjoy getting that experience as it is helpful in preparing me for a potential career in science,” said Shannon Senokosoff, 29, a biology major and vice president of the Natural Science Adventurer’s Club. Since graduating with a degree in art from the University of South Florida, he was not satisfied working as a motion graphics designer and decided to go back to school and pursue his passion for biology at SPC.

Students in the Science Adventurer’s Club go rappelling during a field trip to the Dames Caves.

Students in the Science Adventurer’s Club go rappelling during a field trip to the Dames Caves.

“Getting out there, getting involved in the community through volunteer work and conservation, it puts you in a position where you’re interacting with people that might have positions in different organizations like the Florida Wildlife Commission,” Senokosoff said. “It helps build those connections.”

Lara said the hands-on experiential learning serves as a way to get students to understand what science is really about by doing it and not just hearing about it in a classroom.

“Getting those kinds of experiences – that experiential learning – really sticks with them for the rest of their lives,” she said.


Want to learn more?

The Science Adventurer’s Club meets every other Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the marine biology lab (NM 161) at the Clearwater Campus.

Read Full Post »

Dr. Shannon McQuaig works with bacteria samples

Dr. Shannon McQuaig works with some of the samples of bacteria.

In yellows, oranges and reds, the bacteria’s colors display as living art.

A curiosity about why some of those bacteria almost glow with color has led to an integration of science and art in St. Petersburg College labs.

It started when Shannon McQuaig, Associate Professor of Natural Science, was working in a microbiology teaching lab at the SPC Clearwater Campus. She noticed one of the agar petri dishes was contaminated with unknown bacteria. But what stood out as unusual about the contamination was that it was the bright color.

“When I took a closer look, the contaminating bacteria had a bright yellow color,” McQuaig said. Intrigued, she set it aside for further study. She noticed a similar contamination on another petri dish on another day, only that time it was bright orange.

With her curiosity in full swing, McQuaig did some research and discovered a variety of bacteria that produce certain pigments.

The colors of the bacteria depend on many factors including nutrients, light and temperature. In some cases, those pigments may be extracted and then used to write, draw or paint. Some bacteria even release compounds that glow under ultraviolet light when the microorganisms become stressed.

“I thought, ‘those are really pretty. I have some time – I’m just going to streak these out and let them grow,’” said McQuaig, who is working to sequence the DNA of the bacteria to identify it. “So that’s basically what started it. I got really interested in looking for the rainbow of colors.”

This project led her to apply for her third SPC Foundation Innovation Grant for an interdisciplinary project called Creative Integration of Art and Science. She shares this grant with three other science instructors at the Clearwater Campus who are implementing science projects to encourage students to explore the ways science and art intersect, as well as develop critical thinking skills and exercise creativity.

Some of the bacteria samples for the project.

Some of the bacteria samples for the project.

With a portion of the funding from the $3,477.80 combined innovation grant, McQuaig plans to host a mini workshop for a limited number of students. They will study and grow microbes in the lab from the soil and water samples they collect out in the field.

“From there, we’ll isolate the bacteria or fungus and try to extract pigments, after which I’ll host a ‘painting party’ with the microbe-derived pigments,” she said. Students with microbiology experience will sequence the DNA of the bacteria or fungus to identify it. They also will be able to create “living art” by inoculating agar petri plates with a variety of pigmented microbes.

Her goal is to display the art in a combined art exhibition in January, which will allow students from all the innovation grant’s projects to showcase their work.

“Art and science are very closely related, and so the pigmented bacteria allow us to reach broader populations of people,” said Courtney Cain, a bachelor’s degree biology student at the Clearwater Campus.

Cain was working on an independent project that involves swabbing casino slot machines buttons for bacteria. She then uses DNA sequencing to classify and identify the bacteria on these frequently-touched surfaces.

Courtney Cain, a biology student at the Clearwater Campus, works with samples from her casino project.

Courtney Cain, a biology student at the Clearwater Campus, works with samples from her casino bacteria project.

When she heard about McQuaig’s project, she took a closer look at her own bacteria samples and realized that some contained similar pigmentations.

As someone with a penchant for art, Cain wants to combine her love for science and art to create some artwork for the upcoming art show.

Originally an art education major when she started attending the college in 2002, she had always enjoyed science but never felt encouraged to pursue her interest. Years later when she came back to SPC, Cain got into the science field due to the encouragement of several female SPC Natural Science instructors.

“I felt empowered by SPC’s female staff,” said Cain, who had taken an Intro to Chemistry class and fell in love with the process. “My teacher made it seem achievable to be a successful in science.”

According to the Association for Women in Science, women represent only 24 percent of the workforce in STEM fields. At SPC, the female to male instructor ratio skews higher. Of the 1,404 individual STEM courses taught in fall 2013, 649 were taught by the college’s 204 full-time and part-time female faculty members.

“Dr. Mitchell, Dr. Lara and Dr. McQuaig have been very influential on just pushing me to further my education, to do research and to get a more well-rounded education,” she said. “Their influence is one of the major reasons I’ve decided to stay for my baccalaureate degree at SPC. The fact that we have this kind of research available is so incredible and it’s just a huge opportunity.”

Read Full Post »

St. Petersburg College Science Professor Shannon McQuaig was part of a Fox 13 news report looking at germs and silverware. The report looked at iFork products – flatware that includes a small bead of steel on the underside of each piece so the utensil doesn’t rest on the table.

McQuaig gathered samples from dining tables at four restaurants as part of the report’s look at the benefit of using the iFork products.

The report also is available on the college’s YouTube channel.



Read Full Post »

Older Posts »