$255,000 grant to biology and chemistry departments
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This past June, the W. M. Keck Foundation awarded Westmont’s chemistry and biology departments a grant of $225,000 to restructure labs within the programs. The grant is expected to help, “revamp the curriculum to incorporate more inquiry-based lab exercises, [...] increase the rigor of the statistics and analysis, [...] improve and maintain laboratory instrumentation, [...] restructure a senior capstone course to center around a student-hosted research seminar series” according to the application.
According to Dr. Eileen McMahon McQuade of the Westmont biology department, who chaired the application of the grant alongside Dr. Steve Julio Associate Professor and Department Chair, recent feedback from alumni after the routine six-year department review called for more inquiry-based labs, internships, and involvement with more advanced techniques.
In a recent interview about the Keck Grant, professor McQuade explained that the application of the grant’s funds will be concentrated in “revamping” the programs to include the aforementioned to better prepare students for graduate school and the field. Currently, as described by Dr. McQuade, a small portion of upper-division students are able to work alongside professors in intensive research for a semester or summer.
“[Students] have more of these culminating experiences later and you really lose out on the joy of discovery. A big part of the grant was developing this inquiry based technique in our introductory classes.” Dr. McQuade continued that they want to “[...]incorporate more advanced techniques into the lower division to give them more of a flavor and to give them a taste of what it’s really going to be. In the lower division classes, it’s a lot of classic techniques and rudimentary experiments because they tend to be a little easier.” The grant will provide funds for professors to restructure labs to accommodate for the inquiry-based research within the parameters of lower division class sizes and expand the lab options for upper division students.
Additionally, professor McQuade spoke to the restructuring of the senior capstone for biology. Students will host a scientist, researcher, or professor for a research talk or event on campus. To prepare for the guest speaker, students must be well versed in the guest’s work and contradictory works in conjunction with the guest’s. Students will also be responsible to accommodate for the guest and coordinate with the Gaedian institute. “One hope with the research seminar is to bring more researchers from a wider variety,” McQuade described the allocation of the grant’s funds to the host seminar program.
The W. M. Keck Foundation was founded in 1954 in Los Angeles as a philanthropic institution to foster research in science, engineering, and medicine.The grant was issued from the Foundation’s Undergraduate Education Program, which has previously awarded the grant to schools including California State University of Los Angeles (2016), Louisiana State University (2014-2015), and Chapman University (2014).
Ultimately, the hope for the W. M. Keck Grant is to further develop the intimate and attentive research opportunity through inquiry-based labs and updated machinery Westmont provides, as opposed to a larger university. Additionally, the senior capstone will foster communication and professional skills through the seminar program.