Enhancing Undergraduate Research

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Hired for his strong research background in microbiology and immunology, Chad Sethman, assistant professor of biology at Waynesburg University, has enhanced undergraduate research while challenging students to think deeply about the concepts and their relationship to the “big picture” of science and also to society as a whole.

Prior to joining Waynesburg University, Sethman performed Immunological Research as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. Sethman worked to functionally characterize a newly-discovered human gene, referred to as “SARM,” and investigate its role in inflammation and programmed cell death.

Although his earliest career intentions were primarily focused on performing bio-medical research, Sethman had the opportunity to teach various laboratory courses and a lecture course as a graduate student. These experiences sparked his interest in teaching and research mentoring. Today Sethman is committed to developing and delivering the best possible educational experiences for his students, and according to his students, he does that and more.

Sethman teaches a variety of courses including Microbiology, Immunology, and the department's capstone course involving reading and evaluating journal articles as well as developing a research project, collecting and analyzing the data, and presenting the results.

Involved in research for many years before becoming a professor, he often uses those experiences to help his students understand what they are learning and why it is important.

“Dr. Sethman is known for the rigor of his courses. He makes sure his students have more than just a superficial understanding of concepts, that they're really able to explain what happens and why,” said Chris Cink, chair of the Department of Biology, Environmental Science and Athletic Training. “Particularly in his senior research course, he pushes his students to ask questions and to evaluate the research methods of others.”

Jeff Johns, a senior biology major, would agree.

“Dr. Sethman has a special ability to relate to the students. He is able to break down and present difficult subjects in an interesting way that keeps students' attention,” Johns said.

Currently working with Sethman to study the transmission of antibiotic resistance between pathogenic and nonpathogenic microbes in relationship to MRSA, Johns said Sethman has taught him many lessons throughout the process.

“I have learned to think critically and to apply my knowledge when fabricating a research plan. Because of Dr. Sethman, I know what will be expected of me when I leave Waynesburg, and he has better prepared me for my future endeavors in medicine and research,” Johns said.

As a result of his work with Sethman, Johns has decided to pursue microbiology and immunology in graduate school following his graduation from Waynesburg University.

“He has been very influential in my academic career,” Johns said.

Like Johns, Britany Spitznogle, a 2011 Waynesburg University alumna and a student at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine School of Pharmacy, recognized the value of being mentored by someone such as Sethman.

Unable to choose just one situation in which Dr. Sethman made a profound impact on her life, Spitznogle said that Sethman taught her that she could “do whatever she wanted to do in life” as long as she “put in the time and effort.”

“Without his advice and guidance, I wouldn't be where I am today. His classes are what prepared me most for pharmacy school, and it's not often that you find a professor that cares as much about your education and future as Dr. Sethman does.”

Spitznogle said Sethman's unique teaching style taught her to rely on resources beyond the textbook.

Because career success is never based on one's ability to accurately answer questions on exams, Sethman said “students need to develop proficiency at turning mere knowledge into innovation and productivity, the true bases for career success.”

“Research experience provides the invaluable training required to make this transition. It enables students to develop the essential practical skills of applying their knowledge in order to solve problems and make advancements to our understanding of a particular field,” he said.

His passion for guiding students through their undergraduate research stems from what Sethman believes it does for students.

“Research experience provides our students with huge advantages toward preparations for successful careers. We have the opportunity to immerse our students deeply in the entire research process with regards to conceptual planning, diligent experimentation/data gathering, critical analysis and effective communication.”

Sethman said the complexity and depth of Waynesburg University's research offerings has resulted in comments from employers and graduate school representatives relating to how impressed they are with Waynesburg's students' level of professional scientific aptitude stemming from their research experiences.

“The benefits of undergraduate research include increasing the student's level of involvement in independent learning; enhancing skills in critical thinking, problem solving, reading comprehension and communication; and teaching students how to be life-long learners,” he said.

In addition to the research opportunities and the skills learned in the process, Sethman credits Waynesburg University's small class size and faculty members who are highly-qualified experts in their fields for the level of student success related to research.

“These are essential to maintaining the most effective learning atmosphere. Because of the small class size, our students obtain a much more individualized education and have many more opportunities to interact with faculty for course help and career advice.”

Sethman also deems it notable to highlight Waynesburg's Christian mission — a mission which he said enables biology students to have the uniquely moving opportunity to explore the relationship between their scientific understanding of the world and their spiritual faith.

“This is something that I think is invaluable to the development of ethically and faithfully responsible professionals,” he said.

Grateful for the opportunities presented while a faculty member at Waynesburg University, Sethman is pleased to accept the fact that his earliest career intentions were not his last.