Teaching-research combination works at Villa Julie

July 28, 1991|By Joe Surkiewicz

At most large research universities, the guiding philosophy for faculty members is "publish or perish." While that doctrine serves to advance research in the sciences, it often shortchanges undergraduate students: They rarely see top faculty members and are largely taught by teaching assistants.

But it doesn't have to be that way, according to administrators at Villa Julie College, a non-denominational liberal arts college in Stevenson that offers two- and four-year degree programs in the sciences.

The college's administrators point out that Villa Julie has successfully blended the best of both worlds. They boast of a top science faculty that does research and teaches undergraduates.

"We are essentially a teaching institution, but that doesn't mean research isn't being done," said Dr. Joseph Brusini, Villa Julie's science division chairman and assistant dean of the college. "A lot of our adjunct faculty are doing research in the institutions they're associated with. They bring their research background to us."

Many of the part-time faculty members work at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Frederick Cancer Research Center or other area research institutions, Dr. Brusini said. "It makes us a little bit different," he added. "They maintain their background in their field but give quality to their teaching."

In addition to being taught by researchers, most of Villa Julie's science majors gain practical experience in their future fields by working as interns.

"For example, many of our students in the chemical laboratory technician program work at Noxell Corp. in Hunt Valley," Dr. Brusini said. "Students in our medical laboratory technician program intern at Hopkins, where they are in the labs working with instrumentation and getting up-to-date training."

Preparing students for careers in science takes more than just guiding them through a curriculum of science courses, he added. "Our programs provide students with science training, but it's not all theory," Dr. Brusini said. "There is a practical aspect. In a lot of cases, students are working on the latest equipment."

That's because employers expect graduates to have the training to handle specific tasks, said Daniel Tauber, assistant professor of chemistry at Villa Julie. "We keep that in mind," he said. "We can't spend a lot of time dealing with hypothetical situations. The training students receive here must be relevant and useful."

He gave an example. Rather than talk about how scientists analyze organic chemical compounds, Villa Julie students perform tests on samples with the college's infrared spectrophotometer, a sophisticated, computer-controlled instrument designed to analyze samples of complex chemicals such as oil.

"With it, students can identify a particular oil sample from an oil spill to see what country it came from," said Mr. Tauber, who explained that the chemical composition of oil varies slightly from country to country. "For example, the infrared !* spectrophotometer can determine whether the sample came from Saudi Arabia or Kuwait."

Dr. Brusini said non-science majors at Villa Julie also benefit from the practicality of the science courses. Every student is required to take a minimum of two semesters of a lab science, he said. That's on top of a course load heavy in the liberal arts.

"The courses non-science majors take are not much different from those that science majors take," Dr. Brusini said. "They can't take an easy out. The courses are not watered down."

Villa Julie maintains three fully equipped labs which receive a lot of use, Mr. Tauber added. "A survey by the American Chemical Society showed the average use of a college lab was 18 hours a week," the chemistry professor said. "We use our labs on the average of 27 hours a week."

In addition, the instructor teaching the lecture portion of the course also teaches the lab, Dr. Brusini said. "In most colleges the lab section is taught by a teaching assistant," he explained. "By having the same instructor teach both portions of the course, it gives insight into how well a student has grasped the material given in the lecture."

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