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Spring 1999 Vol.23 No.2
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Undergraduates Discover Biomedical Science at the College

by Archana Reddy

His pen poised over fresh sheets of paper, Paul Shao, a freshman undergraduate at the University of Illinois, was ready to take notes when the bell rang the first day of his Freshman Discovery class.

Surrounded by only 21 other freshmen and introduced to three faculty members of the College of Veterinary Medicine, Shao suddenly realized there was no need to take copious notes, because this class would be different from all his others.

Drs. Mark Kuhlenschmidt, Carol Lichtensteiger, and Eric Vimr, faculty members in veterinary pathobiology, taught Shao’s Discovery seminar, called “Biomedical Science in Health and Medicine.”

Freshman Discovery classes were established by the University four years ago. They are small, seminar-sized classes open only to freshmen and offered in nearly every discipline. Discovery classes are designed to create curiosity and excitement about a new subject and to introduce freshmen to academic culture, traditions, and opportunities.

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Undergraduate Paul Shao, shown here with his lab supervisor Dr. Katherine Wasson, got involved in research at the College after taking a Freshman Discovery class.

“The emphasis was not on cramming information into you, but on sparking your interest,” says Shao, who looked forward to class every week. The class included lab experiments, multimedia presentations, discussion of relevant current events, lectures, tours of the College’s facilities, and real-life applications of information.

Dr. Kuhlenschmidt says that after the course, students had an appreciation for how cutting-edge science affects their lives.

“This course gives students a format that is not intimidating. The worst thing for a freshman is to sit in a lecture hall with 500 other students and not ask a single question the whole semester,” says Dr. Kuhlenschmidt, who has taught Discovery classes for four years.

The class gives students a chance to interact with faculty, and many of the students continue to interact with the professors after the course is over.

Shao, for example, began working in Dr. Kuhlenschmidt’s lab as a research assistant in January. Dr. Kuhlenschmidt usually does not hire undergraduates as research assistants, but Shao was “enthusiastic and effervescent,” he says.

The Discovery class is an opportunity to educate students about the applications of research done by faculty members, Dr. Kuhlenschmidt says. Because veterinary school unites the basic sciences and their application, there is no better place to help people become more scientifically literate, and this is what the Discovery class does.

“I’ve enjoyed the Discovery course more than any other course I’ve taught,” Dr. Kuhlenschmidt says.

Dr. Uriel Kitron, another veterinary pathobiology faculty member, also teaches a Freshman Discovery course. It is called “Science and the Media."


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