Professor Integrates UHSP’s First CURE-Driven Lab Component into Microbiology Courses
Published on 23 January 2023
University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis is deeply invested in expanding student opportunity in and outside of the classroom. One of the University’s key initiatives is the pursuit of research across campus that is innovative in its approach to building healthier societies.
In the classroom, Amy Reese, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology, and Andrea Williams, biochemistry lab materials manager and adjunct instructor, are introducing undergraduate students to the world of research through a lab component in their Microbiology laboratory course through the CURE (Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience) program that allows the integration of authentic research projects into biology laboratory courses.
Through the CURE program, students conduct independent research studying soil to help solve the growing global issue of antimicrobial resistance and identify potential new antibiotic-producing bacteria. This classroom lab experience also aims to recruit more students into the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields and encourage them to consider pursuing more formal research opportunities at the University.
"The course includes all of the standard techniques of our microbiology course, but the research is threaded throughout the course in a way that highlights the relevance of one part moving to another, as opposed to just technique," Reese said. "And many of the techniques the students are learning are really useful for pharmacy and medicine as a whole, including antiseptic and sterile techniques. These methods allow them to gain hands-on experience and foundational information for numerous health care careers."
Reese notes that one of the unique aspects of the CURE program is that students have the chance to take ownership of their research.
"Students are the decision-makers, which creates a sense of accomplishment, especially for those new to research," Reese explained. "And students aren’t just making decisions, they are having to plan and explain their decision-making framework, which allows them to look at research in a broader context."
Because of the CURE program's focus on collecting samples from soil, Reese encourages students to consider the broader context of the soil they are collecting.
"We have students looking at bacteria from the soil they collected, but I encourage them to think about 'did anyone die on this soil, were there any lynchings,' 'who were the indigenous folks that lived there before,' and 'what does it mean to have green space near you or maybe not have green space near you' Encouraging students to consider these questions is prompting them to think of science and their samples in a broader concept and what that means for the health of the local and global populations, as well as with a social justice mindset."
Through unique courses like the lab component of Microbiology, as well as Introduction to Biology and her elective Science, Ethics and Society course, students at UHSP benefit from an undergraduate education that is taught through the lens of health care that prepares them to pursue pharmacy and serves as the perfect foundation for medical school and other health sciences professions.
Perhaps even more exciting for undergraduate students at the University is the early exposure to research opportunities they gain within a classroom.
"What really sparked my interest in the CURE program is how it allows students, who might never had pursued research previously, to bloom in the research setting," Reese explained. "They realize research is fun and accessible, inspiring them to explore their strengths and interests, which is what learning at UHSP is all about."