Winning a Game of One-on-One

The mentoring program has greatly increased the marketability of BYU undergraduates, who have been approached with offers of postdoctoral positions and employment.

Professor Will Winder mentoring student
Will Winder: Mentoring Stellar Undergraduates.
Farming was not on Will Winder's mind when he attended BYU as a freshman. Though raised on a dairy farm, he just wanted to go into accounting. But two years on an LDS mission changed all that. He returned with the desire to become a teacher and is now a professor of physiology and developmental biology at BYU.

Like most of the faculty at BYU, Winder loves to teach. "Many of my students have never been exposed to close examination of the physiology of the human body," said Winder. "For me, it's fun to open their eyes to the marvelous organization and complexity of the body."
According to Winder, it's active involvement that's the key to learning. "It's hard to get a concept of the dynamics of processes in the body without seeing them in action," said Winder. "There's a growing pressure in this country to eliminate the lab experience.

But hands-on experience in physiology is a vital part of education. For example, how does the cellular activity of the heart ultimately result in pumping 2,000 gallons of blood each day, or how does the kidney distinguish structure of molecules and put the waste in the urine and the beneficial material back into the blood? It's important to show the big picture, then get students actively involved in the details."

Winder has been able to take this hands-on experience one step further by participating in BYU's mentoring program. "Undergraduate students come into the lab and become a part of a research team to the point of co-authoring papers and going to national meetings," said Winder. "This normally happens only with graduate and post-doctoral students. But it takes money. If they're in the lab 20 hours a week, then they can't work elsewhere. We have been very grateful to the College and University, through its foundation, for support of mentoring grants to help undergraduates in this program."

"To date, the mentoring program has greatly increased the marketability of our graduates," said Winder. "Undergraduate students have been mistaken for graduate and post-doctoral students, and have been approached at national meetings for the purpose of offering post-doctoral positions and employment. Student applications for medical and dental school and graduate school are polished with inclusion of significant research experience during their undergraduate years."

This research experience is not only good for the students; it has helped Winder and BYU make significant discoveries. One of the projects he was able to work on with such undergraduates may lead to a new treatment for diabetes.

Winder and his students discovered one of the molecular mechanisms controlling glucose uptake and fat utilization in contracting muscle. In type 2 diabetes, insulin-triggered glucose uptake is deficient and handling of fat also goes awry. Winder is hopeful that as the mentoring program continues, he and his students will be able to make additional contributions by identifying new avenues of prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes.