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Undergraduate Research Experience Brings Learning to Life

(Left to right) Interim MCTC President Avelino Mills-Novoa, Victoria Krawiec, Dr. Renu Kumar, Mathew Korteum and Dean Chuck Paulson at the State Capitol Developing critical and analytical thinking skills is an integral part of student’s lives at MCTC. And one of the ways the College ensures this is part of the experience is encouraging students to apply and reflect on what they are learning through undergraduate research and analysis.

MCTC Science faculty, including biology faculty member Dr. Renu Bhagat Kumar, regularly implement active teaching and learning strategies in their classrooms. In fact, recent microbiology research findings have taken Dr. Kumar’s students to the Minnesota State Capitol and The American Society of Microbiology’s General Meeting in Louisiana, 2015, and Boston, Mass. in 2016.

Students Victoria Krawiec and Mathew Korteum have been studying the role microorganisms play in the solubilization, transport and deposition of metals and minerals in the environment under the guidance and mentorship of Dr. Kumar. Victoria and Matthew had an opportunity to share the results of their research with legislators and other leaders in state government at the Minnesota State Capitol earlier this year. Senator Michelle Benson, who met with the students, said in a letter how much she appreciated Dr. Kumar for providing exceptional education to students at MCTC. “The research was extremely well received by key opinion leaders,” said Mathew Kortuem. “I was impressed with the receptivity, thought and care they took hearing about the characterization of lead resistance in bacterial isolate and its applications in bioremediation. It’s a complicated subject and they were extremely engaged.”

Student Victoria Krawiec, supported by Dr. Kumar, presents the project entitled, “Identification and Genetic Analysis of Zinc Resistance in Bacillus toyonensis” at The American Society of Microbiology’s General Meeting in Boston, Mass. in May“Microorganisms play an important role in the solubilization, transport and deposition of metals and minerals in the environment,” said Dr. Kumar. “Increased industrialization and modern agricultural practices are consistently pouring metals into our environment which has a direct impact on biotic communities.” The students are studying how the increased rate of metal resistance is attributed to the increase in environmental pollution. Several of Dr. Kumar’s students have been involved in studying the mechanisms and genetics of processes including the uptake of metal ions and accumulation since 2012 and the Matthew and Victoria’s work continues the study.

“Our research is based on the concept that involves the use of organisms to remove or neutralize pollutants from a contaminated area,” said Victoria Krawiec. “We aim to understand the possible mechanisms of metal resistance and the use of those microbes for bioremediation and possible metal reclamation.”

Victoria received the 2016 ASM Undergraduate Research Capstone Award from the American Society of Microbiologists and presented the research at their national conference in Boston, which drew more than 10,000 microbiologists from around the world and included a compelling keynote by Bill Gates. Dr. Kumar also received an Education Minnesota Foundation grant to support the same.

“I am always encouraging faculty to achieve excellence in teaching and undergraduate research,” said MCTC Dean of Math and Science Chuck Paulson. “Renu is a powerful influence on the lives of our students. She often takes the role of mentor, supporting and guiding students in their STEM programs through supervision of independent research. Many of the students Dr. Kumar has worked with have gone on to do impressive work at the university level.”

Student Mathew Korteum (right) talks about his research findings with Interim MCTC President Avelino Mills-Novoa at the State Capitol prior to presenting to legislators and other leaders in state governmentAccording to Paulson, research and evaluation skills enable students to directly apply what they are learning and evaluate the efficacy of their work via rigorous analysis. Not only that, he believes it could ultimately have a direct impact on our environment.

The research initiative is partially funded by the science club at MCTC and a Higher Education Faculty Professional Development grant and continues each year, including new students as existing researchers graduate. Students who have been working on the project since its inception include: Saris Ahmed, Mike Skinner, Shequaya Broadus, Victoria Krawiec and Mathew Korteum.