by Todd Kelson
Recently, I attended a research conference with two of my undergraduate students who were presenting their research results on the Small World Initiative (SWI). I was standing off to the side, and a faculty member from another college who knew I was involved in SWI asked me, “How is the student response to this lab?” This was my answer: A typical lab looks a little like this – Students come to lab and immediately go to the incubator where their plates are stored. They look at their plates and begin telling their neighbors what they’ve found, and they are excited to show off their zones of inhibition. They get their lab notebooks off the shelf and begin recording their observations. All of this happens before I ever start my mini-lecture for the day. Compare this to my old fashioned lab, where students sat at their lab bench quietly and waited until I began to speak. Then after my mini-lecture, they opened their lab manual and followed the directions, step-by-step. They couldn’t wait to finish and get out of there.
The Small World Initiative has helped to bring back enthusiasm about science among my freshmen lab students. They comment how excited they are to be doing something that might make a difference for the global threat of antibiotic resistance. They love working in a lab where they get to decide, to some extent, what they will do – and the lab experience is a little different for each and every one of my students. Their excitement energizes me, and I want to be a better teacher for them. Will we ever discover a new antibiotic? I don’t know. But the enthusiasm that my students have for science tells me that it doesn’t matter. They are becoming future scientists who will make a difference.