Enhanced learning

UMSL keeps ahead with grant-funded research, enhanced learning spaces and endowed chairs – UMSL Daily

Sonya Bahar (left), associate professor of biophysics and director of the Center for Neurodynamics at UMSL, and graduate students Dawn King and Adam Scott study computational and mathematical models of evolution with the help of a grant from the James S. McDonnell Foundation. (Photo by August Jennewein)

The University of Missouri-St. Louis set and achieved numerous fundraising goals during his seven-year, $ 154 million Gateway for Greatness campaign, which ended this summer. No goal was more important than improving teaching, learning and research at the university.

Here are three examples of how the university has advanced academics with the support of individuals and organizations.

Funded research

The discoveries that emerge from university research can foster economic development and lead to innovations that help people. These are just two results that highlight why research is a pillar of the university’s mission, according to Nasser Arshadi, vice-rector for research at UMSL.

“We are currently working on four dozen new technologies in medical devices, diagnostics and drug discovery,” Arshadi said. “At best, university research improves lives. “

But supporting university research initiatives can be difficult. An economy that has been slow to recover from a recession, Missouri state budget cuts, and reduced federal funding have increased the need for UMSL and other universities to secure additional funding from non-governmental sources, including non-profit foundations, businesses and individual donors.

Sonya Bahar, associate professor of biophysics and director of the Center for Neurodynamics at UMSL, last year won a three-year research award from the James S. McDonnell Foundation. The organization is based in Richmond Heights, Missouri, and awards millions of dollars each year to support scientific, educational and charitable causes around the world.

The grant, “Complex Dynamics, Phase Transitions and Scaling in an Evolutionary Model,” totaled over $ 188,000 and enables Bahar and graduate students Dawn King and Adam Scott to work on computational and mathematical models. of evolution. They study how the amount of mutation in a system affects the formation of species and how organisms divide into different species.

“In this case, I think the McDonnell Foundation is willing to fund things that are a little more theoretical, a little more exploratory, and with less immediate applications than a larger government funding body,” Bahar said.

The funding not only makes the trio’s efforts possible, but the dollars allow King and Scott to work full steam ahead on their research, without too many distractions, while pursuing doctorates in physics at UMSL.

“They can focus on the work they need to complete their education,” says Bahar.

When King first arrived at UMSL, she worked as a graduate teaching assistant. She said it was doable but difficult to balance all of her responsibilities, which included research, courses and teaching. The scholarship gave him a bit more flexibility and the opportunity to work more closely with Bahar, his faculty mentor.

“The grant gives me the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research so that I am more marketable when I graduate from my doctorate,” King said.

While the McDonnell Foundation is a private funding source, Bahar says support in all its forms is essential for researchers.

“Without funding, it would be possible to do research,” she says. “But the process would go much, much slower.”

Renewed learning spaces

With a $ 750,000 donation from St. Louis-based Peabody Energy, UMSL will renovate two existing lab spaces – creating a modern technology-based physics lab and an environmental science lab that will enable students to better understand the impact of humans on the Mississippi River. .

The physics lab will be located on the third floor of Benton Hall, and the environmental science lab will be located on the third floor of Stadler Hall. The buildings are among the oldest on campus, constructed in 1964 and 1967 respectively. They are central to the education of all UMSL students, but are particularly important to the 1,500 students who study in STEM disciplines, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“Peabody is investing in the education of the next generation because we believe that an educated society is essential to building stronger, safer and healthier communities,” said Greg Boyce, President and CEO of Peabody Energy. “Our investment in UMSL recognizes the university as one of the most valuable assets in our region for providing quality STEM education at a reasonable cost. The renovations to these labs are important to our region and they are important to our future workforce.

Patricia Parker is E. Desmond Lee Professor of Zoological Studies and Chair of the Department of Biology at UMSL. She led the push to create the Environmental Science Laboratory. In the spring semester, his department welcomed its first students into a new interdisciplinary minor program in environmental studies. The lab will allow the biology department to add one course to the program – one in Applied Environmental Studies.

The renovated space will be equipped with many new tools for students, including microscopes, one or two DNA sequence analyzers and half a dozen PCR machines. (The polymerase chain reaction is a technology that allows scientists to identify a piece of DNA and make many copies of it so that it can be studied in the future.)

The course will be an elective course that will target non-biology majors. Parker says the Mississippi River will provide these students with great opportunities to learn how people can change the chemical and physical aspects of vital waterways. For example, water samples and the organisms they contain can be analyzed under a microscope and genetically to measure concentrations of human waste or assess the impact of other contaminants.

“This will be largely open exploratory work where we can compare what is above Saint-Louis to what is below Saint-Louis and deduce that the difference is due to what is passes when water passes through our human population, ”says Parker.

The new physics lab will enhance teaching and learning in two essential courses offered by the Department of Physics and Astronomy, according to Bernard Feldman, professor of physics and associate dean at the University of Missouri-St. Louis / Washington University in St. Louis Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program.

About 210 students per year take Basic Physics I, a course comprised primarily of undergraduates who pursue studies other than physics. Another 90 students per year follow Physics: Mechanics and Heat, a compulsory course for physics majors. Both courses spend the whole year in the same lab, which has remained virtually unchanged for decades.

The new lab will be created in an unused room so that construction does not disrupt the current sections of the two courtyards using the existing lab. Audio-visual equipment will be improved. The workstations will have computers interfaced so that the students can collect, analyze and display data. Round tables will replace the existing rows of long, narrow worktables, and the lab layout will bring students and instructor closer together.

“Students can interact better,” says Feldman. “Rather than being aligned, they form a circle, so they can talk to each other, help each other and work better together.

Peabody’s main giveaway was the last one booked for the Gateway for Greatness campaign. Renovation work is expected to start in the spring semester. The two laboratories will bear the name of Peabody.

Endowed professors

The Gateway for Greatness campaign supported a number of faculty positions. Among them are a newly staffed chair, a staffed chair post and a director post. An existing curatorship was also supported.

The anonymous donations helped establish two positions at the College of Nursing – the Director of the Collaborating Center for Nursing Outcomes, Research and Innovation and the Endowed Chair in Advanced Nursing Practice. An additional anonymous donation will support the St. Louis Mercantile Library Association Endowed Curator of Art, which is owned by Julie Dunn-Morton.

Peter G. Schick, BSBA 1974, funded an endowed chair at the College of Business Administration. In July, Yiuman Tse became the first Peter G. Schick Endowed Professor of Finance at UMSL. Tse has class and research responsibilities. He also oversees the Business College Chartered Financial Analyst Exam Preparation Program. The CFA is a professional certification offered to investment and finance professionals by the CFA Institute.

Schick is Chairman Emeritus of Moneta Group, an investment management firm based in Clayton, Missouri. He credits college for his success and says the chair is a way to give back.

“The creation of a professorship is an important opportunity for many parties to benefit from it: students, the university, clients of the Moneta group and Tse,” says Schick. “Far too little research is currently being conducted at the university level regarding the practicality of creating ideal investment portfolios. This endowment can change that.

Tse is an expert in investments, international finance, financial theory, corporate finance, applied econometrics and research methods. He came to UMSL from the University of Texas at San Antonio, where he was a professor of finance. Previously, he was Associate Professor of Finance at Binghamton University, State University of New York, and Visiting Scholar at Hong Kong City University.

Tse says staffed positions are vital for UMSL.

“They allow universities to attract and retain top academics and teachers,” he says. “The endowment fund can support different types of academic and research activities that benefit students and the university. Endowed chairs are the hallmark of a great university.


This story was reported and written by Jennifer Hatton, Tom Hockett and Myra Lopez. It was originally published in the Fall 2012 issue of UMSL magazine.

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