At Adelphi, the five-hour biochemistry lab run by Professor Brian Stockman, Ph.D., is capped at 12 students who are divided into three or four groups and conduct their own, customized research projects.
Undergraduate science labs often have upward of 20 students, all following premade experiments, with no opportunity to conduct their own research.
But at Adelphi, the five-hour biochemistry lab run by Associate Professor and Department Chair Brian Stockman, Ph.D., is capped at 12 students who are divided into three or four groups and conduct their own customized research projects.
“I have four minilabs going at once that are completely different from each other,” said Dr. Stockman. “If you had 24 students in the lab, it would be impossible to do individualized work like that.”
This year, Dr. Stockman received one of Adelphi’s first Dean’s Student Circle Outstanding Mentor Awards. The award, presented by the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Student Circle Awards winners, honors professors who have had a profound impact on students’ academic careers.
Since students are devising their own experiments, they often don’t know what’s going to happen. They learn by testing their ideas instead of following a proven formula.
“I call it guided autonomy,” Dr. Stockman said. “It turns students into problem solvers so they have to think about something instead of following a recipe. You’re teaching them to get used to ambiguity.”
Each research project involves purifying a protein. Groups pick their protein, research how to purify it and devise a practical approach for purifying it in the classroom lab.
“Having that five-hour block of time every week with a small group of students allows me to work with them and give them the chance to critically think through what they’re doing,” Dr. Stockman said.
As former student Walace Kierulf-Vieira noted, “We learned how to work independently. It was the first time I’ve had so much freedom in a laboratory course.”
Dr. Stockman personalizes each experience by helping groups select proteins that are relevant to their chosen fields of study. For example, for a group of three pre-dental students, he’ll recommend researching an enzyme that organisms use to degrade starch, which can help students better understand how cavities form.
“As an aspiring dentist, taking Dr. Stockman’s class has given me the skills I need to be successful in the future,” said Julia Persaud, a former student who is now Dr. Stockman’s teaching assistant and a member of his on-campus research group. “I learned how to study and apply the material we learned into practice.”
Outside of the classroom, Dr. Stockman leads an on-campus research group of undergraduate students who conduct experiments and publish papers in peer-reviewed journals. The group received a grant of more than $300,000 from the National Institutes of Health in 2017 to continue their research of trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted disease that is becoming resistant to certain drugs. Their research could help develop new methods for treating the disease.
Still, students don’t have to join the research group to begin publishing papers. Dr. Stockman taught an advanced biochemistry course in Spring 2012 with five students who designed their own protein that would bind to zinc. They used a molecular modeling software to plan the design and then sent it off to a third party to have it synthesized. After the process was completed, Dr. Stockman and the students wrote a paper, “Design and Characterization of a Zn2+-Binding Four-Helix Bundle Protein in the Biophysical Chemistry Laboratory,” which was published in the Journal of Chemical Education in 2014.
“The success of that project was one of the driving forces for me to introduce the team project approach to the biochemistry lab in Fall 2012,” Dr. Stockman said. “This is the seventh year now for the team projects, and those afternoons are the best part of my week.”
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