A Solid Infrastructure: Cornerstones of Higher Education

New Life Sciences faculty
New Life Sciences faculty:
(l-r) Top row: J. Ryan Stewart, PWS, Benjamin Crookston, HLTH,
Laura Jefferies, nDfS. Bottom row: Brianna Magnusson, HLTH,
Ben Bikman, PDBio, Sarah Ridge, ExSc.
Those familiar with the process of laying a masonry foundation know the importance of the cornerstone. All other stones will be set in reference to the placement of this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.

Working on this principle, the College of Life Sciences has been helping students build a solid educational foundation through its unsurpassed faculty and first-class educational experiences. A new, state-of-the-art facility plays an important part in building that foundation, but it is not the most important part. The College believes that optimal educational opportunities, such as mentored research, internships, and scholarships, are the cornerstones to turning out exceptional graduates. To provide such experiences, colleges must first begin with first-class faculty to mentor first-class students.

Hiring the Best

In the College of Life Sciences, the hiring process is a very careful one, ensuring that the College uses its resources wisely. When a position becomes vacant, deans and chairs together determine allocation of the vacant position to the department where it is most needed. Similar to a construction footprint, this process allows the College to get a clear picture of overall needs and to respond quickly to its changing demographics.

When considering faculty candidates, evidence of strong mentoring skills is crucial. If a faculty search fails to find the optimal candidate, the search may be tabled for a time. By doing this, the college will select the ideal candidate, a worthy mentor who can provide a premier educational experience for students. Primarily due to retirements, the College of Life Sciences has hired forty new full-time faculty since 2006. There are currently five new faculty searches in progress and another thirteen positions waiting in the queue.

Apprenticing under Masters

Each year, the Office of Research and Creative Activities (ORCA) offers student scholarships that provide funding for students to complete original research under the direction of their faculty mentors, much like apprentices. In the most recent year for which data is available, 77 of 213 Life Sciences student applications were granted. The college supplemented ORCA grants with their own funds to provide an opportunity for even more students to experience mentored activities. At least 1,200 Life Sciences undergraduates were involved in hands-on, faculty-mentored research, while 256 were coauthors of 127 peer-reviewed journal papers—students were authors of more than half of the papers published in the college. College administration and faculty understand that these experiences significantly enhance the quality of research education for students.
Internships are indispensable career tools that prepare students to achieve their aspirations, whether that is through graduate school, industry, or professional occupations.
Marinda Mullis surrounded by elementary school children in Ghana
Undergraduate Marinda Mullis, Public Health major in the
Health Science Department, surrounded by elementary school
children in Ghana, West Africa.

Students are actively encouraged to seek internship opportunities. Those who participate become experienced in the world of work, research, data analysis, writing, presentation, and publishing. Students can earn LfSci 199R or LfSci 399R class credit for successfully completing internships. Experience providers evaluate the interns at the end of the students’ experience. Prior to receiving course credit, students must meet the provider’s expectations, submit a portfolio, and complete an exit interview. Having such work experience in today’s career environment is in- estimable in its significance and preparation for students.

Marinda Mullis, Public Health major in the Health Science Department, completed a very successful internship to Ghana, West Africa, in the fall of 2010. Marinda’s major emphasis on health promotion made this the perfect educational opportunity to work as a volunteer in a developing country. While in Ghana, Marinda shadowed doctors in malaria and HIV clinics and worked with children in orphanages to teach them about diseases and how to avoid them. She also worked with volunteers from the United States and European countries teaching elementary school children about personal hygiene. “It was such a great experience,” Marinda recalls. “I am looking to use my degree to help developing countries as a career, and what we did was exactly that. I loved it so much!”

After graduation, many students who choose to go on to graduate school find that the tools they used and the skills they learned at BYU prepared them very well to further pursue their education.

One of these well-prepared students is Josh LeMonte. Josh took full advantage of the many opportunities in the College of Life Sciences to prepare for his future. Having earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in environmental science, LeMonte is now a first-year doctoral student at the University of Delaware and was the recipient of a federal SMART (Science & Mathematics Access to Retain Talent) grant. The SMART Scholarship for Service Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), provides opportunities for both graduate and undergraduate students to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In return, students commit to a minimum term of employment with the DOD; upon graduation, students are immediately employed.

As a SMART scholar, LeMonte will receive approximately $350,000 in support over five years as he completes his Ph.D. He explains, “It’s a great opportunity for me and a great program. The DOD will be losing over half of its scientists to retirement in the next ten years and this program is aimed at replacing them by recruiting young scientists and helping them get established while benefitting the nation.”
Josh LeMonte measuring greenhouse soil gas emissions
Josh LeMonte (then a Plant and Wildlife Sciences
undergraduate) measures greenhouse soil
gas emissions using a Photo-acoustic
infrared Spectrophotometer.

While at BYU, Josh worked closely with several of his professors on various research projects, including an ORCA grant project. “In my undergraduate [years],” he explains, “I was involved in implementing and completing research projects, analyzing the data, and making presentations at professional meetings.” One such experience will long be remembered by LeMonte’s mentor, Dr. Bryan Hopkins, Plant and Wildlife Sciences. Following an international soil, crop, and environment sciences meeting where Josh had the opportunity to present his research, Hopkins relates, “high-profile scientists and business leaders were astonished to learn that Josh was not a Ph.D. student but an undergraduate with two years yet remaining in his B.S. program.” Josh says all of this “really prepared me for doing more of the same in the future” and “that’s what made all the difference” in his graduate school opportunities.

Avoiding Detours

Need-based scholarships available through the College of Life Sciences provide a bridge to students who face a possible detour in their educational pursuits because of financial need. Despite their best efforts, some “find it difficult to support their education without taking an extended break,” says Rodney Brown, dean of the College of Life Sciences. “Some of those breaks are never closed, and the students do not return. Our goal is to prevent such breaks from ever becoming a necessity.” All students who apply for academic scholarships in the College of Life Sciences are also automatically considered for such scholarships.

World-class faculty, extraordinary students, exceptional mentored experiences, and generous scholarships are the cornerstones of an unsurpassed learning environment constructed in the College of Life Sciences.