JSU Biology Awarded NSF Grant to Reform Science Education


Dr. Lori Hensley, head of JSU’s biology department, along with friend and colleague Dr. Nathan Reyna, associate professor of biology at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas, were recently awarded a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to create the Cell Biology Education Consortium (CBEC). 

The CBEC will build and support a network of faculty and students to provide resources and training that will make it possible for smaller, primarily undergraduate institutions and community colleges to create customized, cell culture research projects.

“This will help in places where faculty time and resources are especially limited,” Hensley said. “What we’re really hoping for is a network with lots of available resources and available funding for faculty wanting to establish this same type of cell culture research in their own labs.” 

That includes JSU, which has never had its own cell culture lab. That will soon change, in part, thanks to this grant.

“It’s going to be a tremendous opportunity for our faculty and students,” Hensley said. “They’ll get a chance to create resources for this grant as well.” 

Traditionally, students are given lab manuals, told to follow the directions to an expected outcome, potentially learning little in the process. One of the newest teaching methods is the use of course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs), which is the approach the CBEC will incorporate.

“CUREs are transforming the way science is taught,” Hensley said. “We want to replace all of our course-based labs with those that provide authentic research experiences.”

The basis for the CBEC relies on the development Cell Blocks – essentially blocks of resources from across the country - that consist of written and videotaped instructions as well as classroom strategies and assessments. Cell Blocks will be developed by faculty and their students at small schools, making it easier for them to be adapted by similar schools.   

The basic components of the Cell Blocks will be consistent. They can be mixed and matched to answer specific questions or centered around grand challenge topics such as the regulation of cell proliferation, the control of cellular differentiation, cell migration, and the cellular pathways and proteins that mediate these processes. 

Hensley and Reyna have created a website, www.cellbioed.com, where faculty and students can submit research questions and then be guided to the right resources.

“And if they ask a question for which there isn’t a Cell Block,” Hensley said, “they can apply for funding through our grant that would then give them the money to create those missing blocks.” 

The implementation of multiple Cell Blocks in the classroom can lead to extensive research projects that could provide the foundation for independent student research projects.  

“This grant sets up both JSU and OBU as leaders in science education reform,” Hensley said.