Dr. Beatriz Villar publishes from her prospectus
The journal Scholarship and Practice of Undergraduate Research (SPUR) will publish a vignette by Dr. Beatriz Villar, professor of biology at the Monroe Campus of Northampton Community College (NCC), from her prospectus “Developing UREs (Undergraduate Research Experiences) at a Community College Branch Campus: A Collaborative Approach.” Several months ago, she received an invitation from a SPUR editor to submit her writing in a highly competitive selection process. On June 1, her vignette was accepted.
The vignette is an outcome of work by Villar, Dr. John Leiser (biology and environmental science), Dr. Danielle Ringhoff (chemistry), and Jacalyn Speicher (biology) to encourage the development of student research experiences. Twice funded by Sanofi, the project was underwritten by a 2016-2018 grant and a 2018-2020 grant. Part of the funding covered the purchase of lab supplies, tablets and scholarships for some STEM students and dual enrollment ongoing and future student research activities on the Monroe Campus: an avian research site and students. The 2018-2020 grant primarily enabled the development of two research centers for a greenhouse, presently under construction. The grant also allowed the group to purchase an Illumina sequencer for future genetic, microbiology and biology projects. Additionally, Villar and Ringhoff are creating a strategic plan to establish long-term undergraduate research experiences, with the support of with NCC stockholders and faculty. A website highlighting student research and resources for faculty is under construction.
In her 2016 and 2017 biology courses, Villar’s students designed experiments using Vernier measuring tools for plant, solar, wind, and environmental experiments. The students also created posters for the College’s Earth Day celebration. The 2018-19 classes in Biology I and II engaged in projects concerning oil-eating bacteria and the antibiotic action of natural cleaners. Under the existing research credit course for biology, Villar has mentored four students exploring in-vitro culture and natural antibiotics (2016) and two students examining the effects of light on plant growth (2018). The 2016 group presented work at the Lehigh Valley Ecology Symposium.
“The idea that we are trying to promote in these URE initiatives is that we can still change little things and work with the community to offer our students some experiences that will make them feel like creating something on their own, with all that implies,” Villar says. In the process of failing and succeeding, Villar explains, students gain skills in problem-solving, and, in the case of group projects, learn teamwork, including planning, and solving conflicts. She adds that UREs at community colleges have limitations by default because they are not research institutions: “Our faculty and students face many challenges: heavy teaching loads, lack of space and funding, etc. Working on this grant has emphasized the importance of collaboration and good teamwork at the faculty and administrative levels. Our enthusiastic and motivated team kept us going!”
Raised in Vigo, Spain, Villar earned a B.A., M.S and a PhD in plant physiology from the Universidad de Santiago Compostela. She also did 30 months of post-doctoral research in Toulouse, France, followed by a year in Vigo in biotechnology (in vitro culture and plant genetic engineering.) In addition, during her 2019-20 sabbatical, she worked internationally on rare diseases projects, while still participating in NCC’s grant-funded projects. She has been currently accepted to participate in the Virtual 2020 BioQUEST & QUBES BIOME Institute, which will take place from July to Nov, designed to exchange ideas about UREs.
Ringhoff, who has been at NCC for four years, also has experiences as an independent consultant and has a background in contract research organization and quality assurance and control as well as cell biology and biochemistry. Leiser’s courses combine classwork with research and community service. His students have presented at conferences such as the Eastern Bird Banding Association Symposium and the Lehigh Valley Ecology and Evolution Symposium. Speicher leads research investigations into nesting and migratory practices of avian species. For twenty years, she has provided valuable field experiences for students.
Villar and her team intend that her vignette will show other community colleges how NCC has worked to create undergraduate research opportunities and the different types of support these community colleges will need.