All posts by Casey Crane

SPC hosts Student-Led Sciences Colloquium April 9-10

Christine McKinley will serve as keynote speaker on Thursday, April 9.
Christine McKinley will serve as keynote speaker on Thursday, April 9.

St. Petersburg College will host a Student-Led Sciences Colloquium at 6:30 p.m. April 9-10 at the SPC Clearwater Campus in the Arts Auditorium. The event kicks off Thursday with a keynote speaker presentation that is free and open to the public. The event will continue on Friday with a series of panel discussions that will includes topics like science pedagogy, local research, and the next step for students after graduation.

Christine McKinley, a licensed mechanical engineer, will serve as the event’s keynote speaker. McKinley is an accomplished mechanical engineer with 20 years of experience working on projects in power generation, industrial facilities, and commercial construction. She is an advocate for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), an author and musician, and she has served as co-host of Brad Meltzer’s Decoded on the History Channel and Under New York on the Discovery Channel.

The event is supported by funds from the St. Petersburg College Student Government Association. A 2014-15 Center of Excellence for Teaching and Learning (CETL) grant also has been awarded to providing funding for awards for excellence in student participation.

SPC graduate named Chancellor’s Student of the Month

St. Petersburg College alumna Salwa Shamsi, Florida College System Chancellor's Student of the Month award winner for January 2015.

St. Petersburg College graduate Salwa Shamsi has been named one of two Chancellor’s Students of the Month by the Florida College System for January 2015.

Shamsi graduated in December 2014 with an Associate in Arts microbiology transfer degree from St. Petersburg College. During her time at SPC, she was involved in student clubs such as the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and the Undergraduate Science Research Society. Along with her colleagues, Shamsi helped present research on the antibiotic-resistant bacteria MRSA to the SPC’s Honors Conference.

Read more about Salwa Shamsi in the January 2015 Florida College System newsletter.

SPC biology professor hosts WEDU series ‘QUEST’

SPC associate professor Shannon McQuaig hosts QUEST a new science television show on WEDU.

St. Petersburg College microbiology professor Shannon McQuaig is the new face of QUEST, a new monthly television series on WEDU.

The series showcases the latest breakthroughs in science, technology and education. As host, McQuaig explores innovative techniques educators are using in their classrooms and provides viewers with an up-close look at emerging technologies.

The first episode aired Oct. 15 at 8:30 p.m. on PBS. Watch the first episode online.

SPC students, faculty participate in dive to hunt, study invasive lionfish

St. Petersburg College faculty members Heyward Mathews and Monica Lara, and SPC alumna Brittany Barbara, were featured among local science experts and event participants during a Lionfish Safari in the Gulf of Mexico.

Students from St. Petersburg College and the University of South Florida volunteered with Reef Monitoring Inc., a group of deep-sea divers that work to track and count fish that inhabit the Gulf, to examine the caught fish once they were brought back to St. Pete Beach.

The Lionfish Safari aims to research and remove the invasive species. The fish were analyzed, studied and cooked by talented local chefs as part of the event. Read more about the event in a St. Petersburg Tribune article.

SPC environmental science students embrace outdoor learning for science

Students in the SPC Field Biology of Florida class at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park

For students enrolled in Jennifer Fernandes’ field biology class, their classroom is everywhere and class activities involve everything from snorkeling reefs in Key Largo to collecting scorpions in the woods.

In SPC’s Field Biology of Florida class (BSC 2250C), hands-on learning is the instructional method of choice. Students spend only the first day in an actual classroom – the rest of their semester is spent in idyllic outdoor environments across the state.

Students study the relative abundance of plant species using different transect methods during the Field Biology of Florida course at St. Petersburg College.
Students study the relative abundance of plant species using different transect methods.

“Field Biology is taught in a different format than most courses in that all of our lectures are done in the field all over Florida,” said Fernandes, Assistant Professor of Biology who has been teaching the class at the Tarpon Springs Campus since Fall 2010.

While looking for a way to engage her students in active student learning and success, she recognized that students learn best when they get their hands dirty. So she opted to take her instruction out of the classroom and into the environments they would be studying.

“It’s been helpful to really get a hands-on experience way of learning,” said Andrew Hamblin, 28, a public safety administration student who transferred from Hillsborough Community College in time for the Spring 2014 term. He thinks learning from direct experience is more effective than traditional learning because Fernandes is able to point out specifics in terminology and processes rather than just having students read from a book.

“You can see what is written on paper but you can’t really understand how it works in the same way,” Hamblin said.

Class field trips vary in content and location depending on the time of year and weather. The spring term often includes weekend camping trips while summer offers snorkeling and winter brings manatees to study.

“In this type of setting, every single student is engaged and they’re all interested in learning because of the different modality,” said Fernandes, who wanted to create a course that would make science interesting for majors and non-majors alike.

Since taking learning outside the classroom, students have journeyed to:

  • Crystal River
  • Rainbow Springs
  • Honeymoon Island State Park
  • Caladesi Island State Park
  • Weedon Island Preserve
  • Highlands Hammock State Park
  • Turtle Hospital
  • Little Manatee River State Park
  • Kissimmee River Restoration
  • Wekiwa Springs State Park
  • Hillsborough River
  • John Chesnut Sr. Park
Students in the Summer 2014 course during a snorkel trip to Rainbow Springs, where they learned about aquifer and spring ecology.
Students in the Summer 2014 course during a snorkel trip to Rainbow Springs, where they learned about aquifer and spring ecology.

During local trips, students carpool to local parks and preserves. For more distant trips, SPC transports students in college vans to locations like Key Largo, Everglades National Park and Topsail Hill State Preserve.

“This class definitely put all of us students in areas that we were able to better understand what we were being taught in regards to the ecology, the plants and animals, and the different natures of the areas that we visited,” Hamblin said.

Students also engage in active learning through volunteer work, like collecting scorpions for research and creating oyster domes for Tampa Bay Watch, a nonprofit organization dedicated to habitat restoration and protection.

“This way they have a different idea of what science truly is,” Fernandes said. “It’s not something that’s boring. They understand it’s actually very hands-on every day, and it helps them make better decisions in life.”

Because of the logistics involved with teaching the course, the class size is capped at 20 students. An additional benefit of this smaller setting means students work more closely with fellow students and develop better working relationships with their peers.

“Every semester, the students absolutely love the class,” said Fernandes. “The biggest things they say is that they learn so much more than they would in a regular classroom setting; that they actually retain the information and develop friendships in a class that they would never have done before.”

Hamblin enjoys the camaraderie he experiences in the class.

“When you do other classes, typically you’re just there to do the work and you don’t associate with many of the other students,” he said. “However, this class really kind of brings that all together where you’re talking and discussing all the subjects with all the students.”

“We’re all communicating and helping one another out and having a great time together,” he said.

SPC faculty make science, math fashionable

SPC professor Michelle Osovitz, left, joins students at Mason Metals Studio in Tampa for an active learning experience that integrates math, art and science..
SPC science students embrace math, art and science integration through active learning
Studio owner Lorrie Mason demonstrates mathematical calculations of kinetic ring construction to SPC students Riccardo Carelli and Lexi Creasy at Mason Metals Studio in Tampa.

Looking for a way to make learning about science fun, St. Petersburg College biology professor Michelle Osovitz recently teamed up with other faculty members to immerse students in a world of art and science integration outside the classroom.

With the help of a grant from the SPC Foundation, students learned how to create kinetic or moving jewelry to demonstrate the concepts of science and mathematics involved in making it.

Osovitz, who teaches in the bachelor’s program at the Clearwater Campus, said she wants students – regardless of their major – to realize that science doesn’t have to be feared or loathed.

“We are actively enhancing the learning experience at SPC by creating an environment both inside and outside the classroom that fosters application of scientific principles in creative arts disciplines,” Osovitz said.

A kinetic spinner ring is actually a combination of two rings – one band that moves or spins around the other one freely. Because they move, they are called kinetic rings. To make the rings, students incorporated numerous scientific concepts, including:

  • geology in working with gemstones
  • chemistry in determining the properties of the copper, silver and steel
  • mathematics in designing and creating the jewelry
  • scientific methods in the overall project
Examples of kinetic “spinner” rings created by SPC students.
Examples of kinetic “spinner” rings created by SPC students.

Integrating art and science enhances students’ experience and can make the field of science less intimidating, Osovitz said. Applying what students have learned to create art allows them to develop critical thinking skills, exercise creativity and increase long-term retention.

According to Osovitz, studies have shown that students who engage in interactive projects that combine science and art tend to understand scientific principles better.

As part of the jewelry making project, students kept an art notebook to record calculations, information about various metal properties and sketches. Upper level students were encouraged to incorporate their art into term papers or poster presentations.

Students who completed the design modules were invited to Mason Metals Studio in Tampa on June 4 to complete their jewelry pieces.

The initiative was funded by an SPC Foundation Grant for Creative Integration of Art and Science. Osovitz joined fellow science faculty members Erin Goergen, Shannon McQuaig and Monica Lara in applying for the grant, which seeks to teach students technical skills in microbiology, biochemistry and molecular biology. McQuaig led students in a project earlier this year about pigments found in bacteria.

“We are all passionate about incorporating creativity and artistic thinking in the teaching of our science courses,” Osovitz said. “As a result, it has become apparent that incorporating art into the science curriculum will not only benefit our students but the professional development of our faculty as well.”

“We are encouraging collaboration across disciplines including physical and life science as well as the art department here at Clearwater,” said Jonathan Barnes, academic chair of Humanities and Fine Arts at the Clearwater Campus.

“On a personal level, it helps us to think about the way we present complex scientific principles in the classroom in a way that our students can relate to,” said Osovitz.