The University of Tulsa

Student-led team publishes national paper on inquiry-based learning in chemistry

When an undergraduate student approached University of Tulsa Assistant Professor of Chemistry Erin Iski with a new strategy for laboratory learning, no one expected the idea to result in almost four years of research and a published paper. But that’s exactly what happened when Iski encouraged chemistry and music education major Greg Jones and chemistry doctoral student Jesse Phillips to pursue a new project.

“Using a Guided-Inquiry Approach to Teach Michaelis–Menten Kinetics” was published in the American Chemistry Society’s Journal of Chemical Education on July 3, explaining how Iski, Jones and Phillips applied a guided inquiry-based system of lab instruction to this specific type of physical chemical kinetics.

“My research with former TU Professor Justin Chalker had led me to perform kinetics experiments to investigate the efficacy of a molecule as an enzyme inhibitor,” Jones said. “For me, it was these research experiences that formed the foundation of my chemistry education at TU.”

A teaching tool Iski described as “fun and different,” the strategy involved two components: an inquiry-based exploratory approach to lab data collection and asking students to create their own experimental design involving Michaelis-Menten kinetics and inhibition.

“Here in this department, we’re progressively improving laboratory procedures, which are almost always very arcane — they don’t tend to work,” Iski said. “As faculty, we focus mostly on lecture and that takes most of our time, but students spend three hours every week in labs.”

Guided, inquiry-based learning

Phillips, who completed his Ph.D. degree in chemistry in May and now works as assistant director of research and development at Xcaliber International in Tulsa, said physical chemical kinetics is a challenging concept to teach at the undergraduate level. However, by using a guided inquiry approach, student post-assessment scores recorded after the two-week Michaelis-Menten lab rotation improved greatly compared to pre-assessment marks. Students were provided material to review at home on their own time in preparation for the lab series. Week one involved designing and implementing a method to collect data on a simple kinetically-driven chemical reaction and then develop a means to inhibit this Michaelis-Menton enzymatic reaction as well as identify the type of inhibition in week two.

“I was present for the entire lab and tried to direct students in a way that would facilitate good results without explicitly telling them what to do,” Phillips explained. “Determining the type of inhibition they needed to prevent a chemical reaction allowed them to learn a lot about the overall kinetics process. They may not have even realized they were learning chemical kinetics in a more efficient way.”

The spike in post-assessment results suggests students learn more when the instruction is self-directed, Phillips said. “Students have a greater uptake of knowledge when they’re in charge of their own learning it versus sitting in a lecture hall where it can be more difficult to follow the instruction.”

kineticsChemistry and biochemistry juniors participated in the lab experiment, and the assessment results of 37 students from two iterations of the lab were featured in the ACS paper. Research that is focused more on education in chemistry rather than experimental surface chemistry in a traditional sense is what distinguishes the paper from other published projects in her research lab, Iski explained. Instead of proposing an exact series of steps paired with specific lab instructions, students were given more freedom to solve a question by examining the Michaelis-Menten kinetics and understanding the potential reactions on their own. The research showed learning in an inquiry-based way helps students understand Michaelis-Menten kinetics more effectively.

“This is a topic I also teach in lecture but in a lecture you have maybe 20 minutes on a concept, sometimes 30, so you don’t have time to get into the nitty-gritty about how you would actually measure the kinetics in a real setting,” Iski said. “This new idea of students developing their own experimental designs has been growing in the education literature over the past 10 years, and publication in July, during the summer, is a good time to catch the interest of professors who are working on their syllabi for the upcoming fall.”

Valuing the undergraduate perspective

What makes the research paper even more relevant is the fact that Jones, an undergraduate at the time, is the one who initially proposed the idea to help fellow undergraduates grasp such a tough chemistry concept. “Greg came to Dr. Iski and me while he was working in our lab and proposed using this type of inquiry-based lab to teach chemical kinetics,” Phillips said. “We worked together on the project while I completed my Ph.D.”

As the physical chemistry lab teaching assistant for the physical chemistry lab, Phillips facilitated the experiment, while much of the initial prep work was completed by Jones. “Greg created a rubric we used to make sure the grading was very uniform in an attempt to prevent outliers when collecting data from students, grading lab reports and scoring pre- and post-lab assessments.”

A team effort for a universal technique

Once Jones completed his two undergraduate degrees in 2016, he was accepted to graduate school at the California Institute of Technology where he is currently pursuing a doctorate in chemistry. Despite the distance, Jones and Phillips kept the project going with weekly Skype updates, tweaking the experiment from iterations one and two, double-checking each other’s lab analyses and making additional lab changes based on what Phillips experienced in the lab. Other TU chemistry and biochemistry faculty, such as Associate Professor Robert Sheaff and Professor William Potter, contributed to improvements in the lab.

“Inquiry-based laboratories bring raw creative design and evaluation skills to the forefront of the educational experience, not only making for better chemists, but undergirding a strong liberal arts education that should be the mission of a university,” Jones said.

After three years of data collection that indicated the success of a guided, inquiry-based lab, Jones and Phillips developed the charts and graphs, gathered statistics, drafted the first version of the paper for Iski to review and began the diligent process of publishing a paper in a nationally known and peer-reviewed scientific journal.

“It’s definitely a universal technique that can be used for anyone in the scientific field to get a better understanding of many different scientific subjects,” Phillips said.

One of the main takeaways from the paper, Iski said, is that Jones and Phillips “worked very hard and iteratively improved the lab over the course of three years, something that took significant effort and time.” The inquiry-based concept generated a 10-point jump in conceptual understanding between iteration one and two, and the group has several ideas for a third version. “It’s positive in the field to see that you don’t just write a lab and let it sit and never make any improvements to it. We can use it once and then use the students’ responses to make it stronger for the next time. We don’t live just in research land or education land, it’s the two coming together and that’s why I like how these two students took up the project and said, ‘let’s publish this.’”

View the complete paper published in the ACS Journal of Chemistry Education here.

Geologist Janet Haggerty completes service as vice provost for research and dean of TU’s Graduate School

In the summer of 1982, a young marine geologist arrived in Tulsa to begin her new role as an assistant professor. Janet Haggerty had just completed a doctorate in geology and geophysics at the University of Hawaii, researching ancient marine environments and projects related to carbonate petrology. She joined The University of Tulsa’s College of Engineering and Natural Sciences and later became its first tenured female faculty member.

Janet Haggerty
Haggerty aboard a submergence research vehicle.

A pioneer in marine research

TU’s Department of Geosciences offered Haggerty the opportunity not only to teach and conduct research, but also to participate in pioneering voyages to uncover secrets of the ocean floor. During her first semester at TU, Haggerty set sail on the South Pacific for six weeks to study carbonate sedimentology. The following spring, she embarked on an eight-week Atlantic expedition, returning to campus after each trip with core samples, photographs, notes, briefings and other information useful to her students.

“I loved working with the students in the classroom and the lab,” Haggerty said. “Both undergraduates and graduate students did research with me. That’s what put a smile on my face and watching them learn was pretty exciting.”

Those first few expeditions were just the beginning for Haggerty, who spent the next three decades building her career as a marine geologist, sedimentologist and professor. She traveled aboard ships such as the Atlantis II and conducted groundbreaking research sponsored by major organizations, including the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Deep Sea Drilling Project and the Ocean Drilling Program. Haggerty also participated in dives on the U.S. Navy’s Alvin and NR-1, submergence-research vehicles that traveled miles deep into an underwater world of mystery and beauty. She also was one of the first women to serve as an American co-chief for the international drilling programs, and she led the first drilling expedition where both co-chiefs were women.

Janet Haggerty“My research involved working with a lot of core materials and dredge samples, researching tectonism of passive and active margins as well as mid-plate settings. This involved studying the geochemistry of sediment fluids, discovering cold-fluid seeping chimneys on serpentinite seamounts in the Marianas and testing Darwin’s theory of the formation of atolls and guyots,” she said.

Serving students and faculty in the Graduate School

In 1990, Haggerty assumed the roles of associate dean of TU’s Graduate School and associate director of research. This move was an opportunity to learn more about TU’s disciplines and serve a greater population of students and faculty. As the Graduate School’s roster of programs expanded, Haggerty established the university’s annual research colloquium in 1998 and assisted in the creation of TU’s Graduate Student Association. Haggerty also served on the Joint Oceanographic Institutions’ U.S. Science Advisory Committee and helped TU earn its Carnegie classification. She was later named vice provost for research and dean of the Graduate School. A sound leader dedicated to student and faculty achievement, she has contributed to the Graduate School’s current 92% retention rate.

“I’m fortunate to have the success I’ve experienced with my research and teaching,” she said. “Bringing out the best in the students is special to me, and I enjoyed collaborating with colleagues as a member of a team.”

A teacher at heart

In addition to helping students navigate graduate studies and their next steps in life, Haggerty assisted faculty with professional development, setting up laboratories, placing acquisitions and supporting interdisciplinary research. “It’s wonderful to be able to help people reach their goals and succeed in education,” she said.

Haggerty stepped down as vice provost for research and dean of the Graduate School in May and will spend the next year on sabbatical, closing out projects in her Keplinger Hall lab. She plans to transition into retirement but has not completely ruled out the possibility of teaching again. Originally from Pennsylvania, Haggerty never anticipated she would find her calling in Oklahoma. Tulsa is about as far as one can get from the exotic oceans of her marine research, but it is where she and her family – husband (also a geologist) and two sons – plan to stay once she completes her TU service.

Hurricane Mathfest builds confidence for girls in STEM fields

The 2019 Hurricane Mathfest was sponsored by The University of Tulsa Department of Mathematics and included two separate competitions: a girls-only team challenge for local girls in grades three through eight and a high school individual and team competition.

The competition

hurricane mathfestIn the girls-only team event, 136 girls from the following schools competed on 34 teams in two divisions: upper elementary and middle school.

  • Bristow Middle School
  • Carver Middle School
  • Cascia Hall Preparatory School
  • Cleveland Elementary School
  • Collins Elementary (Bristow)
  • Eisenhower Elementary School
  • Gilcrease Elementary School
  • Gilcrease Middle School
  • Holland Hall
  • Kendall-Whittier Elementary School
  • McLain Junior High School
  • Memorial Junior High school
  • Monroe Demonstration Academy
  • Thoreau Demonstration Academy
  • Union 6th and 7th Grade Center
  • Warner Elementary School
  • Daniel Webster Middle School
  • Westside Elementary School (Claremore)
  • Zarrow Elementary School

Helping hands

Hurricane MathfestThe TU student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) co-sponsored this year’s event. SWE members greeted participants at registration, served as proctors
for testing, delivered snacks, graded exams and organized math games during breaks.

The group also provided T-shirts for the event, but most importantly, served as TU ambassadors, promoting degree programs in the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences.
TU female engineering and science students often volunteer to help raise awareness of the importance of mathematics.

Math + Confidence = Fun

Hurricane MathfestHurricane Mathfest volunteer Gloria Lee, a mechanical engineering sophomore, explained the valuable role that mathematics can have in the lives of young women. “It’s important to encourage them. If you put your mind to it, whether or not you think you’re the best, as long as you give 110%, you can work hard and apply yourself,” Lee said.

Fellow volunteer Caroline Yaeger is majoring in mathematics and economics and plans to pursue a career that educates others in math. “If you look at it the right way, the challenge of math can be fun,” she said. “The field of math, science, technology and engineering is difficult, but that’s part of the fun of it.”

High school senior offered $2.5M in scholarships at 35 universities, chooses TU

Recent high school graduate Nicholas Tsahiridis of Branson, Missouri, has chosen to attend The University of Tulsa after earning more than $2.5 million in scholarship opportunities at 35 universities.

Nicholas TsahiridisTsahiridis is planning a career as a neurologist/neurosurgeon. His inspiration to pursue medicine comes from his younger brother who suffers from conditions including epilepsy, autism, cerebral palsy and ADHD. “Because of him, I became interested in medicine. I want to help cure brain disabilities,” Tsahiridis said.

He committed to attending The University of Tulsa after meeting TU President Gerard Clancy during a campus visit this spring. Tsahiridis, who has decided to major in biology on a pre-med track, said he connected immediately with Clancy, one of only four physicians in the country who also serves as a university president.

“Dr. Clancy said he would help me in my medical career with recommendation letters and advice,” Tsahiridis said. “At a lot of universities, the president is not on everyone’s level, but I could tell he will be very helpful during my time at TU.”

Tsahiridis is wrapping up a successful experience at Branson High School after competing in three varsity sports, completing several advanced placement and honors courses and achieving the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America.

Before attending TU this fall, Tsahiridis will participate in Ionian Village, a three-week international summer camping ministry facilitated by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. He looks forward to focusing on his academics while joining TU’s diverse community of students from all backgrounds and walks of life.

When asked why he applied to so many different universities, Tsahiridis said he wanted to set an example for high school students. “I wanted to show them that hard work pays off because if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”

Three faculty named TU Outstanding Researchers

The University of Tulsa honored its inaugural group of Outstanding Researchers at spring commencement on May 4. The Outstanding Researcher Award is a lifetime distinction, received only once in an individual’s career. It is intended to honor career-spanning achievements that have been validated in the scholar’s professional field.

These are the 2018-19 recipients:

outstanding researchersRose F. Gamble, Tandy Professor of Computer Science Engineering. Gamble developed a safety and security requirements model that can be embedded and used by a self-adaptive system to intelligently determine the least risky adaptation to deploy at runtime.

outstanding researchersJamie L. Rhudy, Director of the Psychophysiology Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience and Professor of Psychology. Rhudy’s research identifies mechanisms that contribute to and/or maintain chronic pain (particularly in Native Americans) and seeks to develop non-invasive methods for assessing individuals at risk for developing chronic pain.

Outstanding ResearchersCem Sarica, F.H. “Mick” Merelli/Cimarex Energy Professor of Petroleum Engineering. Sarica’s research has been disseminated to the public at large through more than 240 publications and incorporated in various software. He has been recognized internationally with several awards by the Society of Petroleum Engineers, most notably with an SPE John Franklin Carll Award in 2015.

Candidates for the Outstanding Researcher awards were nominated by deans from the Kendall College of Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering and Natural Sciences, Collins College of Business and the Oxley College of Health Sciences. Nominees were selected for their recognition of outstanding research and scholarship achievements based on a single project or a cumulative contribution.

Other considerations included pedagogical awards, honors from scholarly societies, grants, publication citation counts or other forms of public recognition. External recognition of a faculty member’s work also factored into the selection process.

Learn more about this year’s distinguished faculty awards, including the 2018-19 Outstanding Teachers and Medicine Wheel Award recipients.

MADE at TU builds device for special needs children at Kendall-Whittier Elementary

special needs childrenAs participants in the TU organization Make a Difference Engineering (MADE at TU), a group of mechanical engineering seniors built and designed a device for special needs children at Tulsa’s Kendall-Whittier Elementary. Nicknamed the “steamroller,” the three-piece set of children’s play equipment was developed as the students’ senior capstone project in the TU mechanical engineering program.

special needs children

 

 

TU students began meeting with teachers and staff in the fall of 2018 to determine the greatest needs for children with physical and emotional challenges at Kendall-Whittier. Once a concept was approved, students spent months designing a prototype and building the final project for delivery. The steamroller is a device that applies deep-pressure therapy useful for children on the autism spectrum, among others. The project is combined with a climbing wall and slide and engineered to fit the limited space available in Kendall-Whittier’s special needs facilities.

 

special needs childrenThe group of mechanical engineering seniors included team leader Rizka Aprilia along with Ahmed Al-Alawi, Almuqdam Al-Mawali, Ahmad Amsalam, Zach Freistadt, Hafsa Khan, Jacob Waller and Cong Xie.

Tandy School of Computer Science hosts fourth annual high-performance computing competition

On April 13, The University of Tulsa College of Engineering and Natural Sciences and Tandy School of Computer Science hosted the Fourth Annual Oklahoma High-Performance Computing Competition on the TU campus. The event challenged 36 students from local high schools, community colleges, technical schools and universities to demonstrate their skills in high-performance computing. Five institutions participated this year.

Congratulations to the following division winners and their faculty advisers:

High School First Place – Programming Track 1

Moore-Norman Technical School

2-Year College First Place – Programming Track 1

Moore-Norman Technical School

Undergraduate First Place – Programming Track 1

Southeastern Oklahoma State University

Second Place
The University of Oklahoma

Undergraduate First Place – Programming Track 2

Southwestern Oklahoma State University

Graduate First Place – Programming Track 1

University of Central Oklahoma

Graduate First Place – Programming Track 2

The University of Oklahoma

Second Place
The University of Tulsa

Many industries face a shortage of professionals with high-performance computing skills, which will play a central role in future technological developments. TU’s competition encourages students to learn about the supercomputing skillset [HM3] and pursue careers in this growing field. In an effort to help meet industry demands, the Tandy School of Computer Science also created a minor in high-performance computing.

high-performance computingSince its inception, the competition has generated significant interest across Oklahoma, and student participants have been awarded prestigious internships with BlueWaters, NASA and the National Weather Service. Recent Tandy graduates are employed at super-computer centers across the United States. “Oklahoma has a large number of high-performance computing resources and experts and TU is a leader in the area of high-performance computing education,” said Associate Professor Peter J. Hawrylak.

Event sponsors included the Tulsa section of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The competition was organized by TU associate professors Peter J. Hawrylak and Mauricio Papa and Tandy Professor of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology John Hale.

Event organizers would like to thank the IEEE Tulsa section for sponsoring lunch at the competition.

Veteran, TU alumnus builds cyber career in Tulsa

Nathan Singleton (BS ’08, MS ’10) has blazed his own trail to success first as a veteran, then a University of Tulsa student and now as a cybersecurity professional. He was the first full-time cybersecurity employee at a Tulsa-based drilling and technology company. Starting with zero budget and staff almost five years ago, Singleton has developed a ten-member cybersecurity team with a multi-million-dollar budget. “We get to interface with all levels of the organization, from the guys on the rigs to those in the mailroom and up to the executive leadership team,” he said.

Learn more about TU’s undergraduate degree options in computer science or graduate programs in cybersecurity.

nathan singletonHis ability to think independently and relate to different fields outside of the cybersecurity discipline are skills he developed as an undergraduate and graduate student at TU. In the ever-changing environment of digital security, Singleton said professionals must be open to continuous learning and different ideas. “There are a lot of bad actors out there that are spending as much money or more than we are in the industry to figure out new ways to get beyond our security measures and protocols,” he said.

“Cybersecurity is always marching forward. It is very fast-paced and going through an education program that is set up in a very similar manner helps prepare you for that.”

Attending TU as a veteran

Originally from Houston, Singleton attended high school in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and joined the military after graduation. He worked 10 years as an electronics technician on submarines in the U.S. Navy, and as his time on active duty drew to a close, he visited Tulsa where a friend told him about TU. He discovered the opportunities that awaited him if he pursued a computer science degree with a focus on cybersecurity. After studying a couple of semesters at Tulsa Community College, Singleton enrolled at TU as a 28-year-old transfer student. Key staff members in the TU Veterans Student Success Center, such as Cindy Watts, helped him coordinate his Department of Veteran’s Affair Vocational Rehabilitation funding. His seamless transition to a four-year university was enhanced by fellow student veterans on campus from all branches of the military.

“It’s a very welcoming vet-friendly environment, and those are relationships that are probably going to carry me through the rest of my life,” Singleton said.

He immediately got involved in research, publishing papers, representing the university at conferences in Japan and Poland and completing internships with local businesses and federal agencies. “My overall experience was amazing,” Singleton said. “I think research at such an early stage of my educational career was what drove me further and further. Because I was former military and because I was older, I had the opportunity to lead research projects that prepared me to manage a cybersecurity department at a multi-national company.”

From grad school to the government

Research, internships, direct interaction with professors and the tight-knit dynamic of TU’s computer science and cybersecurity programs convinced Singleton he’d made the right college decision. Following his bachelor’s degree, he stayed at TU and earned a master’s in computer science, which opened up a whole new world of cyber scenarios and research leadership opportunities. TU’s reputation as a cyber education center set him on track with a career at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Southwest Power Administration where hydroelectric power from U.S. Army Corps of Engineer dams is linked to preference customers in cooperatives and military bases. As the security program manager, Singleton was responsible for the protection and security of the agency’s dams and infrastructure in four states as well as other facilities, substations and power lines that interface directly with the U.S. Army. He rebuilt the physical security program to respond to floods, natural disasters and pandemics. Singleton also oversaw counterintelligence and counterterrorism projects and eventually led the agency’s cybersecurity team.

Finding opportunity in Tulsa

Three years later, he began to look for a new challenge and was contacted by H&P in Tulsa. He has developed the company’s cybersecurity team from the ground up and manages all incident response activities and system reviews. The department’s roles also have expanded to providing security awareness and training, governance, risk analysis and compliance.

“TU taught me how to think outside the box, solve problems and succeed in the government and at H&P,” he said.

After his work experience in the government, he had planned to look for jobs in Washington, D.C., on the West Coast or overseas, but family ties and the prospect of entrepreneurial cyber growth pulled him back to Tulsa. He believes that with more investment from local organizations interested in building out the city’s cyber infrastructure and capabilities, companies will find Tulsa an inviting city with a low cost of living. “As the word spreads and more opportunities arise here in Tulsa, I think we’ll see how it’s a great location for a startup,” Singleton said. “It’s about attracting the minds, giving them what they need to make that initial, first shaky step and then watching them launch.”

 

 

 

Samuel Taylor receives Goldwater Scholarship

University of Tulsa junior Samuel Taylor has been selected as a 2019 Goldwater Scholar and is TU’s 64th student to receive a Goldwater Scholarship. This award honors Senator Barry Goldwater and was designed to encourage outstanding college sophomores and juniors to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. The Goldwater Scholarship is the preeminent undergraduate award of this type in these fields.

samuel taylorTaylor is majoring in computer science and mathematics. He is a National Merit Scholar, a member of the TU Honors Program and participates in the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge. Taylor not only excels academically but lives out other aspects of the True Blue identity by giving back to the community. For more than a year, he has mentored high school students in a local Tulsa FIRST Robotics team. Taylor also helped design a bubble machine with the university organization Make a Difference Engineering (MADE at TU), which aids children with special needs.

From an estimated pool of more than 5,000 college sophomores and juniors, 1,223 natural science, engineering and mathematics students were nominated by 443 academic institutions to compete for the 2019 Goldwater Scholarship. Only 496 were selected. Many of this year’s Goldwater Scholars, including Taylor, have already published research and presented their work.

Taylor plans to pursue a Ph.D. degree in cognitive science with an emphasis in computer science. This will include researching computational models of biological and artificial cognition to see how these models could inform better adaptive artificial intelligence. Ultimately, he hopes to teach and research within academia.

TU students place first and second at statewide research competition

Two students from The University of Tulsa College of Engineering and Natural Sciences received top honors at the 2019 Research Day at the Capitol in Oklahoma City.

sarah gutierrez
Gutierrez with Chancellor Glen D. Johnson

Chemical engineering junior Sarah A. Gutierrez of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and chemistry junior Marjorie Sheaff of Owasso, Oklahoma, were among 22 undergraduate students representing 16 Oklahoma colleges and universities at the event in March. Gutierrez won first place in the research-intensive campus category for her plasma catalysis research. Sheaff earned second place in the research-intensive campus category for her conductive 3D printing research.

marjorie sheaff
Sheaff with Chancellor Glen D. Johnson

They presented competitive research posters to the State Legislature and the public during the annual event, sponsored by Oklahoma NSF EPSCoR, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and the National Science Foundation. The event is designed to raise awareness of the outstanding research that is taking place at Oklahoma’s colleges and universities.