The University of Connecticut Hosts 4th Annual Small World Initiative Training Workshop – by Debra Davis, Wingate University


by Debra Davis

On the heels of another successful and well-attended Small World Initiative (SWI) Annual Symposium at ASM Microbe, the 4th Annual SWI Training Workshop welcomed 23 new SWI Partner Instructors (SWIPIs) at the University of Connecticut (UConn) in Storrs, Connecticut. New partners hailed from India, Spain, and across the United States, representing Texas, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Maryland, Louisiana, North Carolina, Florida, and multiple northeastern states. The six-day workshop began on the afternoon of Tuesday June 21st and ended at noon on Sunday the 26th and was hosted by Nichole Broderick, SWI Program Director, and Debra Davis, SWI Training Committee Chair. Workshop participants were gracefully received and welcomed by any one of a trio of Nichole Broderick’s graduate students – Danielle Lesperance, Rose Dziedzic, and Beth Ann Bolte. These young ladies were on hand for all experiences throughout the week, providing support for all aspects of the workshop. 

Workshop activities kicked off with an informative welcome from our President and CEO, Erika Kurt. Afterwards, Science Committee Co-Chair Kristen Butela swiftly got down to business with a presentation on biosafety. Then, the hunt began! New SWIPIs ventured across UConn’s campus to select prime locations to collect their soil samples in search of antibiotic producers. The week of training included interactive presentations on pedagogical topics from previously established SWIPIs, followed by group discussions on how to incorporate newly introduced (for some) pedagogical methods into SWI courses. Participants were placed in working groups based on the similarity of the courses in which they planned to implement SWI; this allowed for meaningful discussions, constructive recommendations, and critique between participants. 

There were many highlights. Barbara Murdoch (2013 cohort) joined us at UConn and led an engaging session on Backward Design, Bloom’s Taxonomy, and Assessment. In presenting these well-known topics, Barbara stressed the necessity for these methods to be employed when implementing SWI courses. Following the training, she produced a collection of participants' questions and answers for reference. Kristen Butela rejoined us to start a necessary conversation as we evaluate the effectiveness of SWI on our students – the use of Institutional Review Boards. She also delivered a quick lesson in Bioethics. 

A Q&A session with established SWIPIs via videoconference raised lots of ‘how did you?’ questions, which were expertly answered. Our high school pilot instructor Barbara Fishel (The Hockaday School; 2015 high school pilot), along with SWIPIs from different cohorts – Neil Enis (2013 cohort), Theresa Rogers (2015 cohort), and Elizabeth Roberts (2014 cohort), provided perspectives from the various institutions from which they hail. We were especially grateful for the participation of Barbara Fishel, as 25% of the workshop participants represented high schools; they were encouraged and energized by her testimony of the positive impact of SWI on her students. 

Thanks to our Social Media and Public Relations Committee Chair, Ana Barral, many participants were convinced to quickly join SWI's social media accounts; our twitter followers increased dramatically while she was still giving her presentation! Todd Kelson, SWI Mentor Committee Chair, joined us wearing his ever so spectacular SWI lab coat (We ALL want one!) and explained the purpose of the successful SWI Buddy-Mentor program. During the training, many hours were spent in the laboratory working with newly isolated colonies and plates of colonies previously prepared by our gracious UConn hosts. Training participants were able to go through all steps of the SWI research plan, including chemical extraction of the antibiotics produced and testing to ensure activity against pathogens. The laboratory sessions allowed those seasoned microbiologists to revitalize their skill set, helped those participants who had not touched an agar plate since college (or ever), and provided those who were unsure about certain protocols to get in a trial run before returning to their institutions.

Our UConn hosts treated the participants to a wonderful dinner at Lakeview Restaurant, complete with a fantastic fireworks display (courtesy of a nearby festival) at the end of the night! It was a welcome wind down to a busy, but incredibly informative, and productive week. On Sunday morning, working groups presented their plans for future SWI courses, highlighting any possible challenges they might encounter, as well as giving the opportunity for their newly found colleagues and friends to offer advice and/or critiques to their plans. Overall, the new cohort of SWIPIs left excited, enthusiastic, ready, and confident to implement SWI in their institutions across the nation, and the world! We were pleased to hear workshop participants, including the seasoned microbiologists, repeatedly confirm that they were happy they came. 

A great big THANK YOU to our fabulous UConn hosts for a FUN yet informative and productive workshop, for keeping our bellies filled, and being so accommodating. To our new SWIPIs – welcome to the SWI family!

Debra Davis chairs the Small World Initiative Training Committee and is an Assistant Professor at Wingate University, North Carolina. She is a microbial ecologist, specializing in wetland sediment microbial populations. She has been a SWI Partner Instructor since 2014 and has adapted SWI in several courses for Allied Health, Biology/Environmental Biology, and non-science majors. 

If you are interested in bringing SWI to your school, please click here for information on how to apply.

Our 2016 training participants shared the following:

"This workshop has been one of the very best and most useful workshops I have every attended. This spans over a decade of teaching and attending as many workshops that I was able to get to over this time! Great experience! Great team! Looking forward to start, even if modestly. Proud to be a SWIPI!"

"This was a great experience. I feel incredibly prepared to begin. You are amazing!!!"

"I have not been this excited about a new project for a long time.  Thanks so much for the training and materials and support.  It was great!  I am looking forward to implementing SWI in every way I can."

"I learned so much it is going to take weeks to go through all my notes. The bonds I made at the workshop with people were strong. I am looking forward to communicating with them about our work."

"Excellent experience and very well done. Looking forward to implementing the course and to working with the SWI group this year."

"It was a great experience on many fronts and I am excited about offering this at my institute."

"I was excited about SWI before attending training and am even more excited now. It still feels pretty overwhelming, but I have a lot more information and know-how after attending the training. It was really great to collaborate with other teachers interested in making science real for their students."

"Having representatives at multiple levels and institutions was formative. The materials provided are particularly valuable in being able to bring this back to my institution. My view of implementation and usage changed from the training experience. Very excited to move forward with this and show my department how SWI can work for us. Great to be part of this cohort."

"Excellent workshop and very informative for instilling confidence to bring this course back to my home institution and have it run efficiently."

"SWI is more creative as I thought. The SWI team is open-minded and happy to adopt new ideas, leaving plenty of room to innovate! SWI is flexible: It can be adapted to multiple formats and education levels to get the best advantage of the program in particular environments. The SWI community is really collaborative and helpful, ready to share ideas and experiences anytime! It is not just a project: it is a great human environment. Proud of it!"

"The project is very scalable, and I can accomplish my learning goals. The workshop was excellent with so much help offered."

"This project is authentic research, "doable", and highly supported with all the wonderful materials made available."

"Encouraging to see an organization that is tackling the real-world problem of antibiotic resistance and lack of new antibiotics being discovered. How we as science educators can and need to use teaching techniques such as Blooms, formative and summative assessments to further increase STEM retention."

"SWI is straightforward to implement, the community is very supportive community, and my students will greatly benefit from the program."

(Thanks to Nichole Broderick, Dani Lesperance, Andy Langford, and Deborah Overath for allowing us to share their pictures. Picture 1: Training participants in the laboratory examining their isolates. Picture 2: Nichole Broderick providing guidance in the lab. Picture 3: Dilution and patch plates. Pictures 4: Classroom time. Picture 5: Working group presentations. Picture 6: Participants enjoy watching the sunset at Lakeview Restaurant.)