12/14/17

Faculty Spotlight: Besa Xhabija of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Besa Xhabija, PhD, joined the UM-Flint College of Arts and Sciences in Fall 2017 as an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Read below to learn more about Dr. Xhabija and her field of biochemistry or join her in one of her upcoming class:

  • CHM 350: Fundamentals of Biochemistry
  • CHM 382: Environmental Toxicology
  • CHM 451: Biochemistry Laboratory I
  • CHM 453: Biochemistry Laboratory II

Admitted students can register at sis.umflint.edu or find more information about upcoming semesters at umflint.edu/register.


What is your background and education?
I completed my Bachelor of Science with Honors in Biochemistry from York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada and my Doctorate in Chemistry and Biochemistry from the University of Windsor (also in Canada) under the supervision of Dr. Panayiotis Vacratsis. I then continued on to a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Karmanos Cancer Institute and Wayne State University School of Medicine in the Department of Oncology, where I worked with Dr. Benjamin Kidder. My work there focused on studying stem cell and cancer epigenetics, specifically evaluating the functions of chromatin modifying enzymes in self-renewal and genome stability.

Why are you passionate about your field? 
I absolutely adore Biochemistry. It was my first love! I believe that it is the science that will open a window of understanding about how life has evolved from a one cell organism to becoming a well-oiled intricate organism. Understanding that living things are just bags of chemicals that can function in order to think, remember, behave, walk, run, talk, read, write, is absolutely fascinating to me. I am amazed at how basic elements, such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen can make up a bacterial cell, yeast, skin cells, muscle cells, neurons, retinal cells, and organisms generally. This is something that I still find mesmerizing to this day.

How did you fall in love with your discipline?
This is an easy one. I fell in love with biochemistry when I was a junior in high school when we covered the principles of DNA and nucleic acids. I remember myself being very excited about the topic. I started reading on my own and learning the most that I could about how a disease is caused at the genetic level and how to solve biological problems—not realizing that I just scratched the surface of the biochemistry field. Later on, I started reading about the human body on my own and trying to understand, with very little scientific background at that time, how it functions at a molecular and cellular level. I am very glad to have chosen biochemistry as my field of expertise because it truly is my passion and not only it drives my discovery-based research approach in my lab, but also helps me teach with the passion to inspire others to do the same.

What are your favorite courses/subjects to teach?
It probably is not a surprise, but any level of Biochemistry.

What is your latest or favorite research project? 
Currently, I am in the process of setting up a system in my laboratory utilizing embryonic stem cells to study the effect of various toxins and drugs in embryo development. I am very excited about this project and I find it very informative for students and for the Flint community. Moreover, it offers students a large number of research techniques that are essential in any research laboratory.

What do you hope for your time at UM-Flint?
I hope to play an important role as an educator, in particular to sharpen students’ aspirations and allow them to develop their own branch of research or thoughts. I believe that only by pushing and supporting our students to perform to their full potential via promoting collaboration makes them succeed in their future academic paths.

Why were you excited to join UM-Flint and the Flint community?
I consider myself fortunate to have been a member of the UM-Flint Community prior to joining as a full-time faculty member now. I served as lecturer at the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the Fall of 2016 and I was really pleased to see how strong the bonds between faculty, staff and students are.

What do you hope for students in your field? 
I hope for them to become good citizens and follow their chosen path with dedication, passion and strong ethics. I hope for them to inspire and motivate future generations and make this world a better place. I want to encourage those who choose to educate, to educate with passion, I want the health care professionals to serve their patients with care and go the extra mile. Finally, regardless what path they take, I hope that our students find their niche where they love what they do and do everything with passion and dedication. I believe that mediocrity is the enemy to success and that is something that I fight every day and encourage students to avoid avidly.

What are three things you think people should know about you? 

  • I live in Canada.
  • My door is always open and students should feel free to discuss things with me.
  • I enjoy biking.
11/29/17

Faculty Spotlight: Rebecca Tonietto of UM-Flint Biology

Rebecca Tonietto, PhD, joined the UM-Flint College of Arts and Sciences in Fall 2017 as an assistant professor in the Biology Department.

Rebecca Tonietto, PhD, of UM-Flint Biology

Rebecca Tonietto, PhD, of UM-Flint Biology

Read below to learn more about Dr. Tonietto and her field of biology or join her in one of her upcoming classes:

  • BIO 111: Organismal Biology
  • BIO 327: Ecology

Admitted students can register at sis.umflint.edu or find more information about upcoming semesters at umflint.edu/register.


In which area of biology are you particularly interested?
I study native bee communities – how their diversity and structure are related to plant communities, surrounding land-use, and management – for pollinator conservation. With those interests, I am at the intersections of a few different fields, but consider myself a community ecologist interested in conservation and restoration biology.

Why are you passionate about your field?
I love bees! They are so incredibly diverse and beautiful. Did you know we have around 400 species of bees native to Michigan? The honeybee is not one of those, we don’t have a native honeybee in North America. Some of our native bees are metallic green, metallic blue, and range from big and fuzzy to tiny and shiny. They provide an important ecosystem service by pollinating many of our crops and wildflowers, though also deserve conservation attention in their own right. I love talking to people about bees, and investigating how we can best support them. In general, providing habitat for native bees really means making places more beautiful – with more flowers and more species of flowering plants.

How did you fall in love with your discipline?
I loved my entomology and ecology classes as an undergrad at Kalamazoo College, and my senior project there involved aquatic insects. I kept working with insects in any capacity I could afterward, but after my first research assistantship observing bees I never looked back!

What are your favorite courses/subjects to teach? 
My favorite courses to teach are the ones closest to what I do, ecology and my currently-being-developed upper-level biology course will probably be my favorites here at UM-Flint. These courses tend to get students outside in nature, making observations and trying to figure out how to explain or investigate patterns.

What is your latest or favorite research project? 
My latest project was an investigation into the value of urban agriculture for pollinator conservation support in three shrinking cities across the Midwest: Detroit, Chicago and St Louis. We found urban agricultural sites (community gardens and urban farms) supported greater bee species abundance and diversity than open lots. The urban gardens and farms were amazing and inspiring places to work, and I met some wonderful people doing incredibly cool things.

What do you hope for your time at UM-Flint?
I hope to be an effective and inspirational teacher, I hope to do research meaningful to the community and pollinator conservation, and I look forward to getting to know the students.

Why were you excited to join UM-Flint and the Flint community?
I’m a fourth generation Michigander who was thrilled to move back home after over a decade away for research assistantships and graduate school. It means the world to me to be doing meaningful research that would benefit local conservation and the local urban agriculture movement in the region I have, and will always, consider home.

What do you hope for students in your field?
I hope that students remain optimistic and creative, and embrace their inner tenacity and grit, as all are assets in finding out-of-the-box solutions to conservation challenges.

What are three things you think people should know about you? 

  • Though I have studied bees for over 10 years, I have only been stung 2 or 3 times.
  • I love knitting, though lately I design more than actually knit patterns.
  • I come from a family of engineers – my mom, dad, sister and many other relatives are engineers, too!
11/2/17

Faculty Spotlight: Katherine Eaton of Science Education

Katherine Eaton joined the UM-Flint College of Arts and Sciences in Fall 2017 as an assistant professor of science education.

Katherine Eaton, PhD, Assistant Professor of Science Education at UM-Flint

Katherine Eaton, Assistant Professor of Science Education at UM-Flint

Read below to learn more about Katherine and how she’s educating future science teachers, or join her in one of her Winter 2018 classes:

  • EDE 344: Teaching Science, in Elementary/Middle School
    (held Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m. – 8:15 p.m.)
  • SCI 125-02: Scientific Inquiry I
    (held Monday/Wednesday, 2:30 p.m.-4:50 p.m.)

Students can register at sis.umflint.edu or find more information about upcoming semesters at umflint.edu/register.

Students can also find Katherine at one of her Fall 2017 Coffee Chats:

November 2017 — Tips and practice for MTTC-Science items!
Thursday, November 16  |  5-6 p.m.  |  CSEP Conference Room, 215 MSB
Monday, November 20  |  12:30-1:30 p.m.  |  CEP, 410 French Hall

December 2017 — Fun with snowflake science!
Monday, December 4  |  12:30-1:30 p.m.  |  CEP, 410 French Hall
Thursday, December 7  |  5-6 p.m.  |  CSEP Conference Room, 215 MSB

Email eatonk@umflint.edu for more information.


What degrees do you hold? 

  • B.S. Forensic Science, Michigan State University
  • M.Ed. Education, University of Michigan
  • Ph.D. Science Education (Dec 2017), Western Michigan University

Why are you passionate about your field?
The relationship aspect of supporting students as they begin to build their teaching practice is very rewarding! I think mentorship is a key component of having successful teachers in the classroom. I genuinely enjoy seeing students excited about experiencing and teaching science.

How did you fall in love with your discipline?
I have always been curious about scientific phenomenon and questioning the world around me. Forensic Science was a great fit for me because it incorporated all of the scientific disciplines and even had a problem solving component. Science Education has a unique challenge in that the things we know today may be different tomorrow based on new discoveries or new technologies. How cool is that?!

What are your favorite courses/subjects to teach?
I really enjoy teaching science methods courses and mentoring interns during their placements. It is rewarding to see the “ah-ha” moments when they start shaping their own teaching practices. I am also excited to teach the Integrated Science courses, they connect well to my Forensic Science background.

What is your latest or favorite research project?
My current research project is looking at how professional identity develops during a teacher education program. It is interesting to see what components are influencing the development of candidates’ identities as teachers. A secondary question is what, if any, impact a cohort model has on their identity development. This is significant because many undergraduate programs are shifting to cohort models.

What do you hope for your time at UM-Flint?
My hope is that I am building longstanding relationships with my students, colleagues, and within the Flint community. I would like my students to see me as a mentor rather than just an instructor of a course they had to take. That role opens up an opportunity to extend beyond the classroom and be a part of their growth as classroom teachers. I am also looking forward to creating community connections that build on our course learning objectives.

Katherine Eaton (left) and student Nancy Lareau pose with astronaut Story Musgrave

Katherine Eaton (left) and student Nancy Lareau pose with astronaut Story Musgrave

Why were you excited to join UM-Flint and the Flint community?
I am excited to be a part of the integrated science TCP. The joint appointment between the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Education is a unique opportunity to combine my experiences as a scientist and educator. The Flint community has had a special place in my life for the last 20 years and I look forward to not only being an active member of the community but also supporting Flint Public Schools with well-prepared teacher interns. The place-based education opportunities at UM-Flint will provide wonderful ways to discuss science and pedagogy.

What do you hope for students in your field?
I hope students in Science Education enjoy the natural curiosities we all have and find ways to bring that into their own classrooms. New discoveries in science are happening every day and, as teachers, we get to share and explore these ideas with our students. Many advances in science came from failed experiments so I hope my students see that as an opportunity to take chances and try new things.

What are three things you think people should know about you? 

  • I am passionate about my students and they will always be a priority.
  • I truly enjoy researching my own practice and growing as an educator and mentor.
  • When I win the lotto, I will host free educational retreats in the Caribbean for science teachers!
03/22/17

High School Teachers Utilize UM-Flint Resources to Bring Science to Life

Honors Chemistry students from Byron visit UM-Flint labs on a field trip.

UM-Flint students experience hands-on learning, meaningful interactions with their faculty, and access to state-of-the-art equipment in their departments. They also make memories that stick with them for a lifetime and inspire them to come back to campus. Two UM-Flint alumni, Mandi Davis and Theresa Krejci (both teachers for the Byron Area Schools), recently returned to UM-Flint with their own students. They were hoping to show off a little of what made their UM-Flint experiences so special while giving the students access to recently renovated laboratory spaces.

Visiting Biology at UM-Flint

The Byron anatomy and physiology students began their day by visiting the gross anatomy lab with the Biology Department‘s Dennis Viele. They interacted with the university’s cadavers—examining the differing pathologies of hearts, seeing a spinal cord, and even touching an intact brain. “I wanted my students to see that UM-Flint is a great place to get their degree as well as expose them to some new opportunities in the field of science,” said Krejci. “We were able to view parts of the human body that we have or will be studying.”

Krejci graduated in 1993 with a degree in biology, a minor in mathematics, and a general science teaching certificate. “It was nice to return and see that so many improvements had been made,” she said. “The cadaver lab is equipped with lots of technology which allows for better learning for the students.”

Dennis Viele of UM-Flint biology leads students in interacting with a cadaver.

Dennis Viele of UM-Flint biology leads students in interacting with a cadaver.

Krejci teaches physical science and anatomy & physiology. She has also served as a biology teacher, a middle school science teacher, and was the curriculum director at Byron Area Schools for 11 years. She coaches 8th grade volleyball, summer softball, and works with the youth at her church.

Theresa Krejci, UM-Flint alumna and teacher for Byron Area Schools

Theresa Krejci, UM-Flint alumna and teacher for Byron Area Schools

Krejci fondly remembers UM-Flint and appreciates the ways in which her time as a student prepared her for her career. “The class sizes were not huge and you were able to talk with your professors if you needed to,” she recalled. “I enjoyed the lab experiences that I had while at U of M. I particularly enjoyed the field biology course that I took.”

Connecting Students

Byron honors chemistry students also visited UM-Flint, led by teacher and NHS advisor Mandi Davis. They were treated to chemistry demos by UM-Flint Chem Club students Noor Alawwa, Lynnette Harris, and Aaron Hancock, and then conducted their own experiments in one of the newly renovated Chemistry & Biochemistry Department labs.

Davis graduated from UM-Flint in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, a minor in math, and a teacher’s certificate. She completed her MA in educational technology in 2013. “It was great to return to campus,” said Davis. “I want to be able to expose my students to things that we cannot bring to Byron—to instrumentation, to some of the things that can inspire [and] ignite love for science!”

Lynnette Harris and Noor Alawwa of the UM-Flint Chem Club conduct a demo for visiting high schoolers.

Lynnette Harris and Noor Alawwa of the UM-Flint Chem Club conduct a demo for visiting high schoolers.

UM-Flint Laboratory Manager Monique Wilhelm helped coordinate the chemistry students’ visit. “Opportunities like these are extremely important in this day and age when everyone thinks they have all of the information at their fingertips,” noted Wilhelm. “Science is a process, not just a bunch of facts, and this process really needs a hands-on component that not all schools have the opportunity to give. Memorizing facts is not why anyone I know decided to become a scientist. It was the physical things we do and see, and the way we think, that motivated most of us to do what we do.”

UM-Flint alumni and teacher Mandi Davis with her students.

UM-Flint alumna and teacher Mandi Davis with her students.

While their experiments were running, the high schoolers had a chance to talk with current UM-Flint students and ask questions about being in college. “These students can only really learn what our campus is like by interacting with the students and faculty,” said Wilhelm. “Our campus’ biggest assets are its people.”

Students from Byron spend time with UM-Flint chemistry students in recently renovated labs.

Students from Byron spend time with UM-Flint chemistry students in recently renovated labs.

“These opportunities are important for our students,” Wilhelm continued, “as it gives them an opportunity to discuss science with non-scientists, as well as show their pride in what they do. Communication is the most important skill for any scientist and where they generally fall short is communication to the general public. This type of event is one of the things that makes the Chemistry Club such a great opportunity for all of our students.”

The Impact of Experience

Davis’ time as a UM-Flint student left her with a lasting impression of her faculty. “Dr. Virgil Cope, who was my academic advisor, had the biggest impact on my UM-Flint career,” she said. “He was a professor who was available to his students whenever we needed. We could be working on problems in the breezeway and, if we had questions, he had no problem stopping and sitting and answering them for us. He believed in me. I was nominated for the Maize and Blue Award, and he helped me to believe in myself and believe that I was worthy of the award. I won that award as well as Outstanding Graduate from the Chemistry Department. And I wasn’t even a ‘full fledged’ chemistry major—I was an education major!”

Honors Chemistry students from Byron visit UM-Flint labs on a field trip.

Honors Chemistry students from Byron visit UM-Flint labs on a field trip.

“Marina Ionina was another impacting professor,” continued Davis. “I did a lot of work with Marina and she helped me in the TCP (teacher certificate program) part of my experience at UM-Flint. She helped me to understand/explore how to teach chemistry, not just be able to do chemistry.”

Davis has high hopes that the visit to UM-Flint will be meaningful to her students and their futures. “I hope it sparks interest and excites them,” she said. “I want these experiences to be the things they look back on and think, ‘that was awesome—that was when I realized science was something I wanted to pursue.’  We all know that the ‘facts’ students learn on a day-to-day basis aren’t going to be what they remember—it’s going to be these types of experiences.”