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Professor Contributes to National Effort to Improve Student Learning

June 15, 2017

St. John Fisher College faculty member Dr. Kevin Callahan will serve as a contributing member of a nationwide effort to enhance college student learning through course-based research experiences (CUREs).

Students work on a chemistry project.

Led by the University of San Diego and funded with a $598,666 grant from the National Science Foundation, the program brings together 15 faculty from 12 institutions to provide undergraduates with broad exposure to research, extending beyond traditional apprenticeship and internship models.

Callahan, who is an assistant professor in the College’s Chemistry Department, joined the project while meeting several of its researchers during an American Society of Biology and Molecular Biology conference.  

As one of the co-principal investigators of the grant, he’ll incorporate the research-based curriculum into Biochemistry Lab, a 400-level course he teaches four times a year to juniors and seniors. While laboratory courses typically involve students researching a problem with a known solution, under the new curriculum, students will seek to address a completely novel question about a well-known enzyme. They will be tasked with developing and testing a hypothesis on how to alter the enzyme.

Kevin Callahan

“Traditionally, there was a known end point to the lab experiments—students knew what they were going to make,” Callahan said. “Here, they don’t know how their experiment will end and some might fail, but it’s the process we want them to engage in—to see them develop and test a hypothesis.” 

Throughout the course, Fisher students will have the opportunity to interact with other undergraduates from across the country to share information about their hypotheses and experiments and see how others are asking different questions about the same problem.

“This communication allows our students to see the collaborative part of science and feel a part of a bigger project,” Callahan said.

Over the course of the next three years, Callahan will attend annual meetings to discuss how the labs are working and what adjustments the faculty members can make to the curriculum. As a pilot institution, he hopes that other colleges and universities can take the resources and materials produced and adopt it for their own laboratory courses.

“The goal is to provide something for the larger biochemistry undergraduate curriculum nationwide,” he said.