Teaching Statement development series: accessibility

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing selected portions of my Teaching Statement here as part of a development series, as I refine my philosophies for the submission of my second-year review this fall. I welcome feedback! Feel free to comment on the post (note, all comments require my approval before appearing publicly on the site), or contact me directly if you have more substantial edits.

*Please note, these are selected portions of my Statement which have been edited to remove sensitive information. These are early drafts, and may not reflect my final version. Tenure materials that I generate are mine to share, but my department chair, committee, and union representative were consulted prior to posting these. Each tenure-granting institution is unique, and departments weigh criteria differently, thus Statements can’t really be directly compared between faculty.*


Improving the accessibility of course materials

While course content might seem like a more pertinent place to begin this Statement, the intellectual content of a course is predicated on the ability of students to access and connect with those materials. The pandemic and social turmoil of 2020 has made this a year like no other for our students, and in conversations with them, I have gathered that it has created new challenges for them and exacerbated existing ones. The primary obstacle for students to attend live lectures and provide effort on assignments is the general increased workload related to online classes, the necessity of employment, and the inflexibility of employers who schedule student employees in a way that precludes them from attending live lectures.  Further, students are under an overwhelming amount of stress, and this has exacerbated learning disorders and created its own obstacles to engaging with course material. To that end, I have made a number of improvements in my course presentation to make materials more approachable and inclusive to learning style and student life outside of the classroom, which have been adopted in 2020 but will persist.

All the course materials for these classes are made available in Brightspace at the beginning of the semester, so students may download readings and lectures when they have access to internet services.  This also allows them to a priori assess the coursework and gauge the expectations on their time, to better plan their effort over the semester in relation to other engagements.  Assignments may be submitted early, and are accepted late with grade penalties applying in some cases.  In 2020-2021, grade penalties are waved to facilitate student scheduling during the pandemic.  For presentations, students may schedule time blocks well in advance, or may opt to record their presentation and submit videos.  Live lectures are recorded and videos are made available to students immediately after class, and previous to the pandemic I gave students the option to attend via remote video conferencing when they were home sick but did not want to miss class.

The availability of coursework in advance and the flexibility of format allows for students to engage with the work at their own pace and in a way that feels more comfortable to them.  In particular, the use of online discussion forums in Brightspace has given a voice to even the quietest of students and allowed for more diverse perspectives to contribute to the topic.

The use of online teaching platforms also allows for more accessibility in the materials for students with additional challenges. For example, after conferring with a student about understanding course materials, I added audio instructions to assignments (a recording of me reading the directions), which allows students with language dysmorphia or visual impairment to more easily understand what is being asked of them.

The use of online teaching software helps me curate assignments to more accurately test student learning and not just how clearly I asked the quiz questions.  For example, it is much easier to track student performance over time and per assignment, and assess which portions of the assignment should be revised to improve their clarity.

Finally, one barrier to student engagement in coursework appears to be a lack of student confidence stemming from an underestimation of their own agency in asking for help, accommodation, or more visibility in the class. Students appear resigned to accept a zero instead of asking for deadline extensions, or for asking for more effort from their instructor. Students appear to internalize poor performance as a personal failure, rather than a discrepancy between how the information is communicated and how it is received.  To that end, I solicit feedback using anonymous polls, and in lectures or assignments which do not generate student engagement I ask students how they would have rephrased the questions I pose to them.  

Something which I have not yet tried, but intend to implement in the future, is a self-reflection assignment at the beginning of the semester for each class. The goal is for students to feel welcome, to feel that they have agency in their education in this class, and to feel that they can let go of control in order to try something new. First, students will be asked to watch a reading of the children’s story, If You Give A Mouse a Cookie (https://youtu.be/QCDPkGjMBro), about a mouse that keeps asking for things.  Next, students will watch a TEDTalk, “Asking for Help is a Strength, Not A Weakness” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akiQuyhXR8o&feature=youtu.be&ab_channel=TED). Then, students will watch the TEDTalk “The Art of Letting Go… Of The Floor” (https://www.ted.com/talks/siawn_ou_the_art_of_letting_go_of_the_floor/details). Finally, students will reflect and write down their goals for the class; 1 thing they want (the cookie), 1 thing they need (the help), and 1 thing they want to let go of (their floor).  

Woman in a dress sitting in front of a laptop displaying the title slide to a presentation called "Microbes on the Farm".

Virtually speaking

This fall, my speaking engagements will all be held virtually, to aid in ongoing infectious-disease-prevention protocols. While in place to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2, these same protocols will also help me avoid the annual fall respiratory infection that I otherwise inevitably encounter while working with overly-stressed students.

But, staying away from others doesn’t mean I can’t stay connected! Virtual events might not feel as fun, but they have allowed me to reach a wider audience, because recorded talks are made available after the live event. And, annotated or subtitled recordings make my talks more accessible!

This fall, I have several public talks and scientific presentations lined up:

  1. University of Maine Cooperative Extension Oxford County 4-H Teen Science Cafe (virtual), “Gut microbes on the farm”, Oct 15, 2020. For teens, this event is free but does require registration to obtain the link.
  2. BioME (Bioscience Association of Maine) Virtual Coffee Hour, Oct 14, 2020. This event is open to the public but requires registration.
  3. Genomes to Phenomes (G2P) group, University of Maine. Co-hosting a session with grad student Alice Hotopp, on gut microbes and survival of reintroduced animals. Oct 30, 2020. Link available to University of Maine community members.
  4. University of Maine Medicine seminar series (virtual), “A crash course in the gut microbiome” , Nov 6, 2020. This event is open to the public and free, but does require registration to obtain the link.
  5. Hotopp, A., Silverbrand, S., Ishaq, S.L.,  MacRae, J.,  Stock, S.P.,  Groden, E. “Can a necromenic nematode serve as a biological Trojan horse for an invasive ant?” Entomological Society of America 2020 (virtual). Nov 15-18, 2020. This pre-recorded seminar requires paid event registration.
  6. Yeoman (presenter), C., Lachman, M., Ishaq, S., Olivo, S., Swartz, J., Herrygers, M., Berarddinelli, J.  “Development of Climactic Oral and Rectal Microbiomes Corresponds to Peak Immunoglobin Titers in Lambs.”  Conference of Research Workers in Animal Diseases (CRWAD) 2020. (Virtual) Dec 5, 2020. This seminar requires paid event registration.

‘Microbes on the Farm’ video available

Last week, I gave a presentation to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Oxford County 4-H Jamboree.

The video is available on YouTube, with subtitles! I sat down to learn how to create and embed them in videos, to help make my science more approachable. The video is made for kids and contains suitable content for all ages, although the difficulty of the content makes it best for kids 12 and up.

Still time to sign up for UMaine 4H virtual summer programs!

Looking for kids’ activities for the summer? Check out the virtual programs hosted by the University of Maine Extension 4H! Learn about animals, how to care for them, and how your food system works.

From their main page, you can find descriptions of each virtual session, including subject material, presenter, and recommended age group (k-12). You can register for as many or as few sessions as you like, which will be delivered over Zoom.

Registration is free! But if you are able to donate to support the program, those are welcome through the 4H site.

I’ll be presenting on Thursday, August 13th, 2020 at 3 pm EST.

Gut Microbes on the Farm

Learn about different digestive tracts in livestock, and the community of microbes living there that help animals digest food, or stay healthy. This presentation will give some background on different digestive tract anatomy, the factors which influence microbes in the gut, and how we can care for animals by caring for their microbes. This presentation will also feature a short presentation on Dr. Ishaq’s journey into science and a Q&A session where attendees can ask questions about gut microbes, life as a scientist, or how to get involved in this time of career. Register by August 12.

Youth ages 12 & up; open to all youth.

Compost, food security, and social justice

What do compost, food security, and social justice have in common? They are all part of creating sustainable, more localized food systems that benefit the community. Want to know more? Check out the piece I co-wrote for The Conversation, along with two other soil microbe researchers.

City compost programs turn garbage into ‘black gold’ that boosts food security and social justice.” Kristen DeAngelis, Gwynne Mhuireach, Sue Ishaq, The Conversation. June 11, 2020

Dr. Kristen DeAngelis is an Associate Professor who studies microbes in soils, climate change, and human impacts, and Dr. Gwynne Mhuireach, a post-doctoral researcher who studies microbes in soils in the built environment and human health.

Woman with yellow background in a video meeting.

Microbes and Social Equity presentation at IHBE Build Health 2020 virtual meeting

I presented at my first virtual conference; the Institute for Health in the Built Environment Build Health 2020 industry consortium meeting on May 14, 2020.

Comprised of the Biology and the Built Environment Centerthe Energy Studies in Buildings Laboratory, and Baker Lighting Lab, IHBE connects researchers, practitioners, and designers engaged in creating healthier buildings. For the past few years they have hosted a mini-conference in Portland, Oregon in May, but this year a virtual format was a safer choice.

IHBE meeting organizers did a fantastic job at facilitating a remote meeting with a dozen speakers across multiple time zones. This included creating formatted slide decks for speakers to populate, coordinating sections by colors and symbols and providing respective virtual backgrounds for section speakers to use, and use of breakout rooms for smaller discussion groups.

I presented “Framing the discussion of microorganisms as a facet of social equity in human health“, and you can find a recorded version of the presentation here. There are no closed captions, but you can read the audio as annotations here:

The concept of “microbes and social equity” is one I’ve been playing with for a little over a year, and has developed into a colloquium course at the University of Oregon in 2019, an essay in PLoS Biology in 2019, and a consortium of researchers participating in “microbes and social equity part 2”. The Part 2 group has been developing some exciting research events planned for later in 2020, and those details will be forthcoming!

STEMMinists of Maine inaugural meeting announced!

One of the biggest challenges faced by STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math, medicine) advocacy groups is finding the time and resources to propose and execute initiatives, as well as find the time for social media engagement to grow the group. There are a number of groups already established in Maine which seek to promote STEMM advocacy/education, accessibility, diversity/equity/inclusion, campus community members, and the general public. 

STEMMinists of Maine is a newly-formed STEMM advocacy group, which seeks to bring together these various groups. Our goal is to act as an umbrella organization, to create a cohesive social media presence that makes it easier for people interested in STEMM advocacy and inclusion to find resources, coordinate events, and get the message out.  All participating groups will remain autonomous, but participation (which is free) will hopefully allow us all to reach a broader audience and have a greater impact in both campus and state-wide initiatives.

Our inaugural meeting will be held at the University of Maine campus, 57 Stodder Hall, to introduce STEMMinists and invite others to be part of our work to promote a better STEMM community. All are welcome!

Shortly after, our website and social media will be finalized and launched!

Podcast interview on the Maine Beacon

This week, I chatted with Mike Tipping, Communications Director of Maine People’s Alliance, and Ben Chin, Deputy Director of Maine People’s Alliance, on my recent publication on ‘microbes and social equity’ in PLoS Biology and the blog version found in the Conversation. We chat about social policies currently under discussion and how they can impact your microbes, why you should care about your neighbor’s microbes, and steps you can take to be a mire microbially-minded and socially-minded community member.

Check out the podcast here:

You can catch up on previous interviews at these fine outlets:

Application open for the Microbial Friends & Foes Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Summer Program at Cornell.

Poster describing The Cornell Institute of Host-Microbe Interactions and Disease (CIHMID) program for Microbial Friends and Foes Summer Program.

“The Cornell Institute of Host-Microbe Interactions and Disease (CIHMID) is accepting applications for the NSF-funded Microbial Friends & Foes Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Summer Program (bit.ly/REU-CIHMID).  Applications are due February 1, 2020.

The Microbial Friends & Foes Program will take place from June 8 to August 14, 2020.  The program will provide training in the concepts and experimental approaches central to understanding microbial interactions with eukaryotic hosts.  Students will learn about broad diversity of microbe-eukaryote interactions through conducting independent research projects, participation in weekly research group meetings, seminars presented by CIHMID faculty, Microbial Friends & Foes Synthesis Panels, CIHMID Summer Symposium, and Microbial Friends & Foes Poster Session. Emphasis will be placed on appreciation of the scientific method and developing effective strategies for conducting research as well as on the synthesis of concepts important to interspecific interactions across diverse systems.  In addition, workshops in electronic database literacy, science citation software, research ethics, science communication, and planning for graduate study will be offered to the Microbial Friends & Foes program participants. Students will receive a stipend of $6000, travel subsidy, meal allowance and on-campus housing.  Applicants will be asked to identify 3 laboratories of interest, and will be selected in a two-step review process by the program organizers and potential mentors. A flyer describing the program is attached and more information can be found at bit.ly/REU-CIHMID.

WHO SHOULD APPLY

*All undergraduate students interested in understanding microbial interactions with eukaryotic hosts.

*Members of minorities underrepresented in science, undergraduates from small colleges, and first-generation college students.

*Applicants must be United Stated citizens or permanent residents and at least 18 years old.”

Ciencia y aventura en mexico

For the past four days, I have been in Monterrey, Mexico, where I have been fostering international scientific relations in meetings and in the mountains.  It was my very first trip to Mexico, and it was an amazing experience.

After arriving in Monterrey, I was greeted by a research friend of mine, Dr. Jose Garcia-Mazcorro.  We met a few years ago when Jose emailed me to ask questions about a recently published paper on Saccharomyces probiotic treatment in cattle, and our conversations on the ecological theory behind probiotics led to a review paper on the subject, led by Jose and I. It wasn’t until last August when Jose and I actually met in person, at the ISME conference in Leipzig, Germany.

At dinner, I had the opportunity to meet Jose’s wife, Alecia, who is also a researcher, and their son, and discuss everything from aflatoxin to Stephen King’s “It” (we discovered that their son and I were both reading It when I discussed living in Maine, not far from Derry).

The next day, I woke up at 3:45 am to travel to the mountains for an incredible experience: a small-group tour in Matacanes canyon led by Daniel, a mountaineer with 20 years of experience and owner of Todo Avetura. He and Omar, another guide, led us for 12 hours and taught us about Matacanes canyon while we trekked 13 kilometers (8.7 miles) down waterfalls, through caves, over boulders, and over cliffs. Even the drive into and out of the canyon was an adventure; the steep road into the mountains fords rivers and winds along cliff faces.  In the canyon, I got to do many things for the first time, including rappel down the side of two waterfalls; 27 m (88.6 ft) and 15 m (49.2 ft) into a cave, swim through the absolute dark of a river cave system, and jump off of several cliffs into the water below, including a 9.5 meter (31 ft) jump!  It was supposed to be 10 meters, but that looked just a little too terrifying to try so I chose a spot that looked friendlier.  Turns out that jumping 9.5 meters is a lot like getting up to present in front of a large audience, you just have to get up there and do it before you have time to think about and psych yourself out.

The guides were really passionate about the mountains, and they were particular about safety and not rushing or pushing us to the point where we would get hurt.  If you have the chance, and the cohones, to go to Matacanes, I highly recommend Todo Aventura.

On Monday, sore but no worse for wear, I gingerly toured some of the facilities where Jose is currently working, MNA, an animal nutrition company.  I met with company president and nutritionist Dr. Jorge Kawas, and Jose, Jorge, and I discussed the role of microbes in animal nutrition and health. 

Dr. Jose Garcia-Mazcorro and I at MNA in Monterrey.

Monday night, I got to chat one-on-one with Professor T.J. Nagaraja, an author on the Saccharomyces review and a prominent researcher in rumen acidosis, cattle health, and infectious disease. 

The main reason for my trip to Monterrey was to attend and speak at the XXII UANL-Engorda de Bovinos en Corral Symposium.  I presented the opening seminar titled “Raising feedlot cattle with good microbes in mind” (“Cria y engorda de ganado con buenos microbios en mente”).  The video can be found here, and slides with presentation notes here:

Organized by MNA and UANL, the university in Monterrey, the symposium brings together researchers, producers, animal industry professionals, and students to discuss animal health in feedlot cattle.  I was honored to give the opening talk, which will be available online soon, and pleased to hear that the audience did in fact like microbes more than before my seminar!  Usually when I start talking about the gut microbiome people have the urge to run off and wash their hands…

Unfortunately, I had to jump back on a plane shortly after my talk, as I am heading to give a different presentation at the Wildlife Society meeting in Reno, Nevada tomorrow! But, I have plenty of memories and new project ideas to remember my trip by, and hopefully I will come back to Monterrey soon!