by Debra Davis
When I decided to implement the Small World Initiative (SWI) on our campus, I had the choice of implementing in an already established course [easily done with all the health profession programs on our campus] or develop and entirely new course. If I am to be entirely honest, due to my own insecurities, I chose the latter and developed a course for non-science majors because I felt if I messed this up, I would not destroy the curriculum, and at the very least, the non-science majors would still learn something. In the fall, I used my microbiology course students as “guinea pigs” and unofficially implemented an abbreviated version of SWI in their lab portion. The students that semester were very excited about doing a research project in class. I never imagined they would be such excited guinea pigs. One particular student [who is now in his first semester of pharmacy school] declared himself embarking on a future career as an epidemiology pharmacist [is there even such a profession??] and became my lab helper in the spring.
My experience with SWI in a non-majors course was contrary to my fears. In short – it was quite the challenge, but all in all, it was simply amazing. I had a cohort of athletes in my small class, particularly football players, mainly because my course “fit their schedule.” During the course, the students were inspired to learn; they worked hard, and due to their natural competitive streak, when each assessment was returned, they crowned the “smartest football player” the teammate with the highest grade. At the end of the semester, we had a poster presentation where the students eloquently discussed their findings with invited success coaches, peers, fellow students, and biology faculty. The feedback I received from my colleagues was incredibly encouraging; they were amazed at the work the students completed and how well they were able to explain themselves. Their advisors wanted to know when I was going to offer the course again because the student feedback was so positive. Two of the freshmen students who did very well in my course are now in freshman biology courses because of the confidence they acquired.
Most of our isolates were common soil bacteria that are already known for their antibiotic production. Our contribution to the science of SWI was minimal, but…. the student experience was invaluable, and my experience as their instructor was life changing. I am better prepared to offer this course again next spring. I am excited as I have a full class. The word is out on our campus, and the students have been signing up! Who knows what this next group will bring!