Professor inspires creativity

Randy Miller takes immense pride in the way Baker University students are exploring the sciences.

The assistant professor of biology works closely with students inside and outside the classroom. As principle investigator of a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Miller has traveled across the country the past three years with curious students, surveying, identifying and analyzing the DNA of tardigrades — microscopic creatures measuring .5 millimeters in length and known as water bears because of their lumbering movement.

“I am proud of the science students developing their critical thinking skills and enjoy seeing them walk across the stage at commencement,” Miller said.

Miller recently joined sophomore Tiffany Clark and Jonathan Vaughn, the University’s outstanding senior in biology before graduating in 2009, at the 11th International Tardigrade Symposium in Tubingen, Germany. They presented “Tardigrades of China: An Analysis of Habitat Chemistry,” which sparked a discussion of the chemical properties the tardigrade habitat they had sampled and processed last summer in Baker’s biology laboratory at Mulvane Hall. Undoubtedly the students are gaining a global perspective while enhancing their research skills. Presenting at international conferences, compiling a high level of research and interacting with renowned scientists are rare for undergraduate students, Miller noted. “We are delivering results with the grant money we are using,” Miller said proudly. “We’ve got a good track record and knowledge on how to be competitive in obtaining grants.”

Miller also values the reaction from his inquisitive students, especially after they have had time to absorb their stimulating experience. “On the airplane while we are returning home they will thank me for the trip and describe what it meant to them,” Miller said. “You see that look in their eye, and that’s when you realize how important the research and travel are to them.”

Miller recalled a similar story from Mark Wellendorf, a 2008 graduate who Miller mentored. “We were coming back from a research project and he asked, ‘Has anybody ever thought this?’” Miller said. “That is the first step in original thinking. Mark collected all these facts and started asking creative and original questions. That is the kind of student learning we are developing here at Baker.”

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