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CBS News - May 2012

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State allocates funds for Itasca campus center

On May 11, Governor Dayton signed a bonding bill passed by the Minnesota Legislature that includes $4.1 million for a new campus center at Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories. The bill allocates a total of $64 million for University of Minnesota.

In addition to funding for Itasca, the legislature designated $50 million for Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement (HEAPR) and $10 million toward a Combined Heat and Power Plant.

The new campus center will replace three obsolete buildings at Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories and provide 12,000 square feet of technology-enabled laboratories, classrooms and offices. A formal groundbreaking will take place at the station this fall. Construction of the new building is expected to begin in April 2013 and be completed by December 2013.

"We thank all of you who have worked with us for several years to make this happen," says Dean Robert Elde. "In a session that has been unusually challenging for the University of Minnesota, Itasca prevailed. And we are ecstatic!"

Faculty “cluster hiring” moves ahead

The College of Biological Sciences will launch a search for 16 new faculty members in a number of research areas, a process that will extend over three academic years. By hiring two or more faculty with expertise in specific subject areas, cluster hiring will build on the college’s research strengths, increase the quality of graduate programs and support the college's goal of creating the best undergraduate biology program in the country.

Following a collaborative vetting process, department heads and associates agreed on two primary clusters focused on synthetic biological systems/microbiology 2.0 (Claudia Schmidt-Danert, chair) and genome-enabled studies of variation/epigenetics/behavioral complexity (Nathan Springer, chair). Four new faculty members will be hired for each of the clusters.

A number of new faculty will also be hired for existing clusters and “startups” including plant/fungal evolution (George Weiblen, chair); biophysics, cellular transport and motility (Tom Hays, chair); quantitative and theoretical biology (Eric Seabloom, chair); and biomolecular structure and function to enable epigenetic analysis (Tim Griffin, chair).

Launching the cluster hiring process   |  Cluster hire strategy

And the award for most innovative goes to …

Earlier this year, CBS introduced two new awards for innovation: the Award for Technical Innovation and Faculty Support and the Award for Administrative Innovation. The awards committee opted to give multiple awards in recognition of the exceptional quality of the submissions. Awards for administrative innovation, which recognizes outstanding contributions that improve service, programs or processes, went to CBS Student Services staff for the Dean’s Scholars Program and CBS IT staff for implementation of a new college-wide web content management system that has transformed the way web work is done at the college by making tools more accessible to more people.. The Dean’s Scholars program was nominated, in part, for the exceptionally high four-year graduation rate of participating students.

Dr. Tata Gopinath, manager of the solid-state NMR facility, Mark McClellan, an assistant scientist associated with the labs of Judy Berman and Melissa Gardner, and the scientific staff of the Biomedical Genomics Center (BMGC) received the award for technical innovation and faculty support. Gopinath has developed novel and groundbreaking methods for determining membrane protein structures, among other accomplishments. McClellan was nominated for implementing new technologies in the lab, saving time and keeping costs low in the process. The BMGC scientific staff expanded, diversified and modernized the center’s core facility during a period of unprecedented financial challenges.  More about the 2012 recipients

BWB student group recognized for philanthropic work

Biology Without Borders, a group founded by CBS students that volunteers in underserved communities in the Twin Cities, Peru and Tanzania, received a 2012 Tony Diggs Award for Outstanding Service Philanthropy Project for their Uyacho Orphanage Garden Project in Bukoba, Tanzania. The group volunteers in underserved communities in the Twin Cities, Peru and Tanzania. Tony Diggs Excellence Awards recognize the achievements of University student groups.

CBS Student Services receives national recognition

The National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) recently highlighted the work of CBS Student Services with awards for advising administration and probation curriculum. Nikki Letawsky Shultz, director of CBS Student Services, received the “Outstanding Advising Award – Academic Advising Administrator” and the unit as a whole received a “Certificate of Merit” for its academic probation advising curriculum. CBS Student Services' probation advising curriculum shifts emphasis away from punitive measures toward helping students assess their situation, find resources and make the changes necessary to support success in the upcoming semester.

“This is very well-deserved award," says Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs Robin Wright. "We are very lucky to have Nikki’s leadership and vision to develop innovative, effective and nationally recognized models for helping CBS students succeed.


Engineering the third wave of biocatalysis

Nature | 5.10.12

Romas Kazlauskas (BMBB/BTI) and colleagues outline the “third wave” of protein-engineered biocatalysts as practical and environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional chemical synthesis in the latest issue of Nature. During biocatalysis’ first wave, which began more than a century ago, scientists recognized that components of living cells could be applied to make chemicals. The second wave in the 1980s and ’90s extended the substrate range of enzymes to unusual chemical building blocks and pharmaceuticals. The third wave of biocatalysis makes extensive changes in proteins and biosynthetic pathways to make biofuels and other chemicals. Read the article

Biodiversity increases soil fertility and biomass production

Science | 5.4.12

A study co-authored by Peter Reich (CFANS), David Tilman (EEB) and Sarah Hobbie (EEB) shows that all plant species in experimental plots at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve contributed to a gradual increase in soil fertility and biomass production over a 14-year period. The study also showed that species have different ways to acquire water, nutrients and carbon and maintain them in an ecosystem. Findings highlight the importance of managing diversity in prairies, forests and crops. “The take-home message is that when we reduce diversity in the landscape—think of a cornfield or a pine plantation or a suburban lawn—we are failing to capitalize on the valuable natural services that biodiversity provides,” Reich says. Previous short-term studies showed that benefits of biodiversity leveled off with more than six to eight species. The Cedar Creek plots had as many as 16 species. Read more

Urban ecosystems are more sensitive to environmental impacts

Ecology | 3.19.12

Cities have more plant species than rural areas, but urban species, which tend to share the same functions, are more sensitive to environmental impacts than rural ecosystems suggests a field study led by EEB faculty members Jeannine Cavender-Bares and Sarah Hobbie, and Sonja Knapp from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany. Researchers compared diversity in Twin Cities’ yards with plant diversity at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve. The new study, highlighted in Nature, indicates that managing biodiversity in urban ecosystems could help make them more resistant to environmental changes. Read more


Jeff Gralnick (Microbiology/BTI) received the 2012 Stanley Dagley-Samuel Kirkwood Undergraduate Education Award. The 2012 John S. Anderson Leadership Award went to Sue Wick (PBIO). Gralnick teaches several popular undergraduate courses, mentors numerous undergraduate students and serves as a faculty mentor for Nature of Life and an advisor for the U of M’s iGEM team. Wick's leadership roles at CBS have included director of General Biology and the Biology Program, director of the Plant Molecular Genetics Institute, and associate department head for plant biology. She is a previous recipient of the Dagley-Kirkwood Award for undergraduate education and has been a National Academies Education Fellow and Education Mentor in the Life Sciences.

The GLBTA Programs Office recognized Sehoya Cotner (Biology Program) with a GLBT Leadership Award last month, in part, for the approach she has developed in her "Evolution and Biology of Sex" course. In the course, Cotner emphasizes the fluidity of sexuality and invites members of the GLBT community to participate in a "gender panel" each semester. Panel members talk about their experiences and respond to student questions. “Once students have learned more about human sexuality and become more accepting of its diversity, it is easier for them to see this issue as one of social justice,” says Jane Phillips (Biology Program), who nominated Cotner for the award.

The following members of the College of Biological Sciences faculty have been promoted to full professor: Susan Jones (EEB), professor; Min Ni (PBIO); Carrie Wilmot (BMBB) and Bonnie LeRoy (GCD). Naoko Shima (GCD) was promoted to associate professor with tenure.

A commentary by Marlene Zuk (EEB)  appeared in the April 29 issue of the Los Angeles Times titled "Bring on the aerial ant sex: People sometimes talk about being transported on the wings of love. For fertile ants, this is a literal concept."

Ruth Shaw (EEB) and Adrian Hegeman (PBIO/Horticultural Sciences/MPIG) are among ten faculty members from across the University of Minnesota to receive 2012 Council of Graduate Students (COGS) Outstanding Faculty Awards. The award, which was created by graduate students, recognizes faculty members for their exceptional contributions to graduate education.

CBS undergraduate Suresh Pavuluri has received a $15,000 A.I. Johnson Scholarship through the Department of Political Science. This fall, he will work on human rights issues as a research assistant on torture in Southeast Asia for the Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez. "My ultimate goal in life,” says Pavuluri, “is to bridge the gap between social and cultural inequalities that restrict people from receiving proper health services."

Meaghan Stein (Student Services) received “Best of Region Presentation” for her session at the National Association of Academic Advisors Regional Conference earlier this month titled “Flying without a net: Helping high-achieving students work through anxieties and unproductive behaviors." CBS Student Services staff presented seven of the 34 sessions at the conference.

Eight CBS undergraduates were awarded 2012 President’s Student Leadership and Service Awards. In addition, three of eight UMAA Scholarships and one of the two Donald R. Zander Awards given out this year went to CBS students. Daniel Bloom, Joohee Han, Allan Kerandi, Hai Nguyen Tran, Jennifer Nicklay, Suresh Pavuluri, Lynn Wang and Missy Reilly received President’s Student Leadership and Service Awards. Han and Reilly received UMAA scholarships, and Kerandi was recognized for his leadership with a Zander Award.

Randy Moore (Biology Program) gave the keynote at the Augustana College Symposium April 19-21. The title of Moore’s talk was “Academic malpractice: The increasing popularity of creationism among biology teachers.”

Jeff Gralnick (Microbiology/BTI) and Mark Bee (EEB) were among the presenters at 2012 TEDxUMN. Gralnick talked about the Soudan Mine's "alien" magnetic microbes and Bee explored frogs, acoustics and the future of hearing.

Graduate students Justin Becknell (EEB), Matt Burgess (EEB), Kevin Dorn (PBS), Ann Krogman (Water Resources) and Hernán Vázquez Miranda (EEB) received 2011-12 CBS Teaching Assistant Awards. The awards recognize excellence in teaching or other instructional activities.

Neuroscience undergraduate Jennifer Reek and microbiology undergraduate Anuj Saluja were recognized at the Biology Colloquium Recognition Dinner held May 4.  Reek received the Student Leader of the Semester Award for fall 2011 and Saluja received the award for spring 2012. The award is given each term to a student who has shown excellent leadership skills in their Student Leader position with the Biology Colloquium program.

Jennifer Decker (Student Services) has been named "Supervisor of the Year" by the Office for Student Engagement’s Student Employment Leadership Program. The award spotlights supervisors who demonstrate a high level of skill and commitment, and promotes students’ growth. CBS Student Services administrative intern Devan Shihata nominated Decker for the award.


May 23

2012 Bollum Symposium

Structure, motion, biomarkers: Discovery through NMR

Speakers for this year’s symposium, which will mark the opening of the U of M’s new Nuclear Magnetic Resonance facility, will include Dorothee Kern (Brandeis University) “Choreographing an enzyme's dance-dynamics during catalysis”; Jeremy K. Nicholson (Imperial College, London) “Spectroscopy and stratified medicine: Getting systems biology into the clinic”; Chad M. Rienstra (University of Illinois) “Taking solid-state NMR to extremes: Membrane proteins, fibrils, new methods”; Gerhard Wagner (Harvard University) “New NMR experiments for challenging proteins.”

May 31

Beyond 'add and stir': Engaging diversity in college classrooms

Every classroom provides opportunities for students to benefit from engaging diverse perspectives. Research is clear that these benefits do not accrue without intentional facilitation. This presentation will support teachers' capacity to integrate diversity in the classroom and realize critical learning outcome across the curriculum. More information

Humphrey Center | Cowles Auditorium | West Bank | 11:30 a.m. -2 p.m.

June 7-8

Sustainability across the curriculum

This workshop, co-sponsored by the Institute on the Environment, Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve and the Institute for Advanced Study, is designed for faculty who wish to develop courses on sustainability or integrate sustainability themes into their courses. The workshop is open to U of M and non-U of M faculty from all disciplines. More information

Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve | East Bethel

June 8-9

BioBlitz + Cedar Creek Field Day

Participate in a nearly nonstop lineup of ecology-themed activities at Cedar Creek Field Day and BioBlitz. Part contest, part festival, part educational event and scientific endeavor, BioBlitzis a 24-hour event that engages citizen scientists in a race against the clock to count the animals and plants within a specific area. Field Day features guided tours, expert talks and much more. More information

Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve | East Bethel

June 25

The Clean Water Act after 40 years: What has it accomplished? How do we fulfill its promise?

G. Tracy Mehan III, an environmental consultant who was the top water-quality official in the Environmental Protection Agency from 2001 to 2003, will deliver a free, public lecturein St. Paul on the Clean Water Act's successes, limitations and avenues for citizens and policy-makers to move forward. More information

St. Paul Student Center | St. Paul | 7 p.m.


Know an outstanding teaching assistant?

Nominate a teaching assistant for a CBS Outstanding Performance Award for Teaching Assistants. All TAs in CBS courses (undergraduate and graduate) who have demonstrated excellence in teaching or other instructional activities are eligible. Nominations are now being accepted for the current (2012) award period, for CBS courses taught spring through fall 2012. Submit nominations to Bruce Fall ( or by campus mail to 3-104 MCB). Please include the name of the TA, course, and a brief justification for the nomination. Nomination form