Science in Action

science

Students in the Natural Sciences program at the University of Mobile are not just learning science – they are living it.

In the nationally accredited Dr. Randy Craig Gross Anatomy Lab, students delve into the complexities of anatomy using human cadavers.

Meanwhile, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab research vessel Alabama Discovery turns the vast expanse of Mobile Bay into a living laboratory, where students can study marine biology in an incredibly diverse ecosystem that serves as a nursery habitat to many species of fish and invertebrates.

In Weaver Hall, an aquaponics lab cycles nutrients through a closed circuit of bacteria, fish and crop plants, teaching students how chemistry affects our environment and how to live and maintain sustainability in the world.

As night falls, students gather on the Dr. Fred and Sue Lackey Great Commission Lawn for “Stargazing with Dr. Itza” and a chance to explore constellations that are cited in the Bible, like Orion and The Big Bear. (Job 9:9)

These experiences do more than prepare students for exams – they deepen understanding and ignite a passion for discovery that textbooks alone could never kindle.

Dr. Matthew Downs, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, says it’s all part of the Christian university’s student-centered experience.

“For students in the Natural Sciences classroom, that means one-on-one interactions with the professor, student-led projects and hands-on work. Whether in the classroom, in the lab, on a boat or under the stars, our students explore the wonder of Creation with caring, engaging professors,” Downs said.

The Natural Sciences at UM

The natural sciences encompass the study of matter and energy (physical science) and the study of living things (life science.)

The University of Mobile offers majors in Biology, including secondary certification
that qualifies graduates to teach biology; Pre-Health Biology designed for students interested in attending various medical professional schools; and Marine Science, which can lead to a variety of careers ranging from marine technology and engineering to ocean mapping and oceanography. Minors are offered in these areas, as well as in chemistry.

Program graduates have been accepted to medical and graduate schools, employed in laboratories and hospitals, worked in cancer research, pursued ecological careers, taught in middle and high school settings, and more.

Learn By Doing

A theme running throughout UM’s Natural Sciences program is an emphasis on experiential learning, where students learn by doing.

Senior Pre-Health Biology major Brooke Turner describes the first course she took in the Natural Sciences Department that nurtured her love for research and sparked her calling to work in a research lab. In the Dr. Randy Craig Gross Anatomy Lab, named for the late professor who created and designed the lab in 2018, undergraduate students have the advantage of working with human cadavers well before most of their peers at other universities, who must wait until they enter medical school to have this experience. The anatomy lab includes a plastination lab that uses forced polymer impregnation to preserve tissues and organs to allow further study.

We are given a case study with a human cadaver and perform an ongoing autopsy to research everything about the medical history of the cadaver. I have always been a hands-on learner, and this class was something that came very easily and naturally to me, because it took everything from a textbook and put it right in front of me. I could touch, feel and examine everything that I had only been able to see on paper over the years.

“I have grown to love the vast field of research over my time at the University of Mobile, and I have taken extra courses to dig deeper and learn more about the research field. Directed Study courses have extended many opportunities to broaden my knowledge of the research field, such as courses in water purification, diagnostic imaging, pathophysiology, etc. With the water purification research, I was given the opportunity to work with a magnetic field pulse apparatus and study its effects on purifying water by tearing apart bacteria. This is the kind of unique experience that the University of Mobile offers which allowed me to fall in love with research.” – Brooke Turner, Class of 2024

Gross Anatomy is a required course for all of UM’s Biology and Pre-Health majors in the College of Arts and Sciences, and for UM’s Master of Athletic Training (MAT) students in the School of Health and Sports Science, College of Health Professions. During Fall Semester 2023, MAT students from BIO 525 Human Gross Anatomy presented a “Lunch and Learn” about current donor specimens, including a presentation on how some conditions they discovered can be avoided, such as adrenal diseases, osteoarthritis, neurocognitive disease, skin cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.

Dr. Ashley Lindsey, assistant professor of biology and director of the Dr. Randy Craig Gross Anatomy Lab, says she would like to see the lab become a hub for interdisciplinary and intercollegiate collaborations in the Mobile area.

“It is an excellent resource and environment to support training programs for multiple research and clinical-based professions,” Lindsey said, inviting interested groups to tour the lab and discuss projects with faculty and students.

A Solid Scientific Foundation

The University of Mobile’s location on the Gulf Coast offers a unique opportunity for students in the Marine Science program. As part of the Marine Environmental Science Consortium (MESC), UM students have access to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) research station just an hour from campus. A summer program offers students the unique opportunity to live and study at the research station.

During a field trip in Mobile Bay aboard the DISL research vessel Alabama Discovery, natural sciences students collected data from trawl surveys, plankton tows and oceanographic instruments to analyze data and write independent research papers.

“One idea I plan to pursue is to develop a May-term field class where students spend time outdoors learning about ecology and appreciating God’s creation while also
diving into our role as Christians to protect and conserve natural resources. I want students leaving our program to have a solid scientific foundation, practical hands-on experience and a theological understanding of their role in protecting natural resources,” said Kim Albins, assistant professor of marine science.

“I’d also like us to have our own research boat so that our students can access the waterways nearby,” she added.

The UM Difference

The university’s quality academic program is a key to the success of graduates from the Natural Sciences program. But it is the culture of this Christ-centered university and the dedication and commitment of the faculty – the UM Difference – that positions students for success.

“The University of Mobile has enhanced my life through knowledge, networking and faith,” says Shanta Williams, a senior majoring in Biology who plans to become a physician. “I am grateful for the exceptional efforts of each of my professors. I’ve been blessed to form so many remarkable relationships with professors, staff and students. Being a part of a Christian campus has enhanced my relationship with God and my ability to be more like Christ in my courses, my community and my life in general.”

Even students who don’t major in the natural sciences are impacted by UM’s science faculty. Dr. Salomon Itza, professor of physics, hosts “Stargazing with Dr. Itza” events each spring semester.

On clear nights, Itza sets up telescopes on the Dr. Fred and Sue Lackey Great Commission Lawn in front of Weaver Hall and hosts stargazing nights for members of his PH 215 Astronomy class as well as students, faculty and staff from throughout the university. He hosts similar events during important astronomical moments like the solar eclipse on Oct. 14, 2023.

“I am passionate about teaching astronomy because it is a science I can use to reach out to all students,” Itza said, noting it offers an opportunity to introduce physics concepts like colors and temperatures of stars.

Whether they are gazing at stars through a telescope, examining the structure of a heart in anatomy lab, pulling up a trawling net on Mobile Bay, or conducting experiments in chemistry or water purification – students who study the the natural sciences at the University of Mobile have a unique opportunity, says Itza.

“We can observe every day and night the wonders created by our Lord.”

About the Author

Kathy Dean

Kathy Dean uses her passion for storytelling and "playing with words" to share the stories of people, place and purpose that make the University of Mobile unique. As associate vice president for university communications, she manages media relations, edits the TorchLight alumni magazine, and oversees university communications. A former award-winning journalist, she is a two-time recipient of the Baptist Communicators Association grand prize for feature writing. Kathy and her husband, Chuck, live with three extremely loud miniature schnauzers.

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