With more than 400 biology majors on campus, biology chair H. Richard Levy knows it's crucial to keep undergraduates informed about departmental activities. The department publishes information on research project opportunities, course offerings, career options in biology and biology-related fields, and BioLog, a periodic newsletter that updates students on fellowships, summer internships, advising, and other endeavors. The department also hosts an annual award ceremony, provides an undergraduate summer fellowship, and has created the Kevin Van Doren Lounge in Lyman Hall for students in memory of the late biology professor. All of this reflects the department's efforts to provide students with an intimate environment within the structure of a large university.
Most important, though, is the department's strong commitment to undergraduate participation in research, Levy says. True, research is expensive and limited by space, but the department encourages interested students to get involved in faculty-supervised independent research projects. "This gives students a totally different perspective on science than taking courses. It's a very challenging and enriching experience that requires a lot of commitment," Levy says. "Not all students are able to do it, but for those who like it, there's a tremendous impact because it really involves them in the nitty gritty of science and gives them an appreciation of both the joys and frustrations of research the discipline requires."
Biology major Mark Davino '98 was intrigued by molecular biology, so he approached his Honors Program advisor, biology professor Larry Wolf, who directed him to Levy. To begin work on his Thesis Honors project, during his junior year Davino joined Levy's lab research team investigating enzymes. Initially, it was predictably overwhelming. "There's a world of difference between textbook drawings and sitting in the lab working with a little tube of clear liquid," Davino says. "You can't see DNA or proteinyou just think, 'What's going on?'"
Nonetheless, Davino welcomed the challenge. He picked up technical skills, participated in the team's weekly meetings with Levy, learned how to mutate amino acids that make up a certain enzyme, and collected data on the mutations, comparing the characteristics between the mutant enzyme and a normal one. Davino also earned the department's Korczynski-Lundgren Fellowship, which allowed him to engage in full-time research on a new enzyme project last summer. In addition to his lab research last semester, he worked with an anesthesiologist in the Crouse Hospital operating room through the Syracuse University Internship Program. "Part of education is finding what you're interested in and really immersing yourself in it," Davino says. "Much of what you get out of your education is what you put into it. I really found my niche here." |
In Wolf's three decades with the biology department, there has always been an effort to include students in laboratory investigations. Such mentoring is time consuming, but also rewarding for its personal interaction with students. "That is the ultimate teaching," Wolf says. "They're learning how things get done and how knowledge is acquired by doing. Some of these students are the next generation of researchers and the way we train them is by interacting. All research students learn to appreciate what research is about and its contributions. We can have a long-term effect on people's perception of research and I think all of us find that pretty exciting."