PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century

Robert Shurina

What works: Observations from the field

Robert Shurina

Robert Shurina is Associate Professor of Biology at Wheeling Jesuit University.

Faculty for the 21st Century members reflect on their experience in making a difference for their students and for the communities of which they are a part.

If a visitor were to come into your classroom/lab—the environment in which you work with students—what impression would s/he leave with?

A visitor would see students working together and actively engaged in learning cell and molecular biology. S/he would observe a student-centered gathering where students learn through questioning and discussing molecular biology. In my laboratory, a visitor would witness my personal attention to all of my students as they conduct biological research using the latest lab equipment.

What brought you to an interest in “advancing the frontiers of education” and to connecting your research to that work?

As a postdoctoral fellow, I discovered that I had a passion for teaching undergraduate science in a research-rich environment. Science is research-based, and there is no better teaching tool for science than research.

Were there crises in doing this? What made you persevere?

There are always crises in undertaking anything worthwhile. The biggest crises were obtaining the funding to purchase state-of-the-art equipment. My students provide me with the desire to persevere. It is truly inspiring to watch students come to college from the poorest areas of West Virginia and develop into top-notch candidates for graduate and medical programs.

What connections have been of most value in doing this?

My most important connection for securing funding and establishing a pipeline for my students to enter graduate and professional schools has been the West Virginia IDEaS Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (WV-INBRE). My connections with Project Kaleidoscope and my F21 colleagues have been important in laying the ground work for establishing these connections because it is through PKAL and their workshops that I came to understand the need for curricular change and the value of undergraduate research on student development. If I had not joined PKAL a decade ago, I probably would never have sought connections with the WV-INBRE.

What kind of institutional culture needs to be in place to nurture careers of faculty actively seeking to integrate their research and teaching?

The institution has to provide support for the faculty to pursue their passions. Support should include a financial incentive, but at the very least it must include release time to allow faculty to pursue funding and to mentor students in research. Promotion and tenure committees have to consider serving an undergraduate research mentor as scholarship when awarding tenure and promotion, since many of the undergraduate research projects that we mentor do not result in pee-reviewed publication.