Collaborations with genetics, physiology, cell biology and other departments enabled Diane Tucker, Ph.D., to connect, interact with and learn from researchers throughout the university during her time in the psychology department. And it was her own experience that prompted her to consider the opportunities and resources her undergraduate students needed to develop varying lab skills.
Tucker’s vision that the campus could work together to provide an exciting set of research opportunities for undergraduates led to the creation of The Science and Technology Honors Program three years ago.
|Diane Tucker, Ph.D., recently received national recognition as one of four teachers selected for the “Celebration of Teaching Tributes” award.
“I just thought if we gave them the tools and experience they needed that they could do tremendous things as undergraduates,” Tucker says. “It was an opportunity to work with our wonderful colleagues here at UAB to create something I think is pretty unique.”
Now, undergraduate students have the opportunity to think like scientists and contribute in a scientific context. Many of them pair with mentors across campus as freshman and learn to navigate the lab. No one is more thankful than the students Tucker teaches and mentors through the SciTech program. That was evidenced when Tucker received the “Celebration of Teaching Tributes” award given by the National Collegiate Honors Council based on the nomination of students in the Science and Technology Honors Program.
Students Justin Chuang and Finn Perkins led the effort to nominate Tucker and presented the award to her at the NCHC conference in San Antonio this past fall.
“The fact that the students showed the initiative to prepare the nomination packet and submit it to the National Collegiate Honors Council meant a tremendous amount to me,” Tucker says. “The students gave a very, very nice presentation and description of me and the program at the conference and spoke of how it was making a difference for them. It was very special.”
Listening to students
It didn’t take Perkins very long to see the kind of teacher Tucker was going to be when he was selected for the program. He saw quite quickly the kind of person she is, too.
Perkins was concerned when he saw the 30-hour requirement for the program posted online during the spring semester of his freshman year. Those 30 hours included no core classes at the time, making it almost a second major instead of a minor.
“Some students and I were worried that this would be too much,” Perkins says. “For example, that’s 31 hours in addition to their required 128 hours. I stayed after a program meeting to voice my worries about this even though I was a bit intimidated.”
Tucker promised Perkins she would look into it, and every semester since that time at least one core class has been coupled with honors credit.
“I realized pretty quickly that Dr. Tucker wants to be our advocate,” Perkins says. “Whenever there is an issue we can go to her, and she can help us.”
Perkins cites many other examples of Tucker’s leadership, including how she encouraged students to develop a student leadership group within the honors program. Still, it’s the time she takes with her students that impresses Perkins the most.
“During both semesters of your freshman year she meets personally with students to help decide what they are interested in studying and how soon they hope to get into a research environment,” Perkins says. “Then she tries to find research groups that focus on that area and are willing to take on undergraduate students.”
Michele Gould has known Tucker for 18 years, learning under her first as an undergraduate student and working with her now as the program manager of the SciTech Honors Program.
Gould keeps much of the behind-the-scenes work flowing, enabling Tucker to reach out to her students — something Gould says may be her best asset.
“The only word I can think of to describe her is amazing,” Gould says. “She has an excellent leadership style; she’s great with students. She’s not only a good teacher, but a great mentor. She’s there for the students 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“In three years she’s taken this program from 12 students to more than 90, created a challenging and intellectually stimulating curriculum and accomplished this on her own until this past January.”
Alan Eberhardt, Ph.D., and Joe March, Ph.D., joined the SciTech Honors Program as associate directors in January 2008. They have seen the program built first-hand. The solid foundation, Eberhardt says, comes from Tucker’s desire to provide the best for the students.
“I think perhaps her strongest traits are her patience with students and her commitment to working with them regardless of how long it takes,” Eberhardt says. “She’s always available to meet with the students, and she’ll sit and talk with a student as long as they need.
“She’s really committed, and she totally believes in the program. She’s doing an amazing job because she’s dedicated to it and her students.”
Generating new knowledge
Students with an interest in science and technology come to the SciTech Honors Program with a vision that they want to generate new knowledge in their field.
The program is set up to help them develop those interests, interact with people from different disciplines and develop an interdisciplinary perspective on research and science.
Linking students to a research mentor is key to making that happen. That was the vision Tucker had for the program when it began, and she believes it’s a big reason for its success in such a short amount of time.
“Many of the students are able to get started in their freshman year or by the beginning of their sophomore year in research with a mentor,” Tucker says. “I think one of the things the students appreciate is that we’re paying attention to each student and trying to help them develop their interests by linking them with a faculty member that can give them hands-on research experience. It ends up being a very rich undergraduate experience for the student. At least, that’s our goal.”