New Bio-Medical Research Colloquium reinforces link to OHSU

Oregon Health and Science University Campus

Dean Terry Hunt and professor Melissa Graboyes’ winter debut of the Clark Honors College science colloquium, Current Bio-Medical Research Topics, is engaging students in critical discussions on a variety of health topics and connecting them with graduates and faculty from Oregon Health & Sciences University, one of the nation’s top medical schools.

On a Wednesday evening in the university’s Straub Hall, Abbey Johnson, an Honors College biology student, stood with her other three group members from the class, readied her PowerPoint presentation and addressed her fellow classmates.

“OK, so we have some things planned to make this presentation fun and engaging,” she said. “Is everyone ready?”

Johnson is a student in the Bio-Medical Research Topics course. The course, true to the college’s mantra, emphasizes student participation through class discussions and creative presentations.

It is unique, however, in that students also are working with research experts from OHSU, as well as representatives from the Gates Foundation, who give weekly presentations to students on contemporary topics ranging from data visualization to disease eradication. The class structure draws from OHSU’s “nano courses,” minilectures that focus on cutting-edge technologies and research.

Johnson and her group addressed the development of social approaches to health that began to take shape after World War II and led to today’s approach to public health. After the horrors of the war, nations came together to develop a more galvanized international community. This marked the start of a global effort to provide health care to everyone, and global bodies like the World Health Organization emerged as a result.

Health workers also began to consider and emphasize social and economic forces, approaching health care holistically rather than as pure science. This led to the idea that doctors must consider the comfort and concerns of the patient in treating disease.

The presenting group then organized a class debate about whether social considerations should even be allowed in the realm of hard science. The room filled with chatter as students grouped up to take sides on the issue.

Johnson explained that learning about the social side of medicine is especially useful as she prepares for the Medical College Admission Test. “The MCAT now has a sociology component, and the movement overall is sort of toward more integrated approaches (to patient care),” she said.

After the debate, the group introduced the week’s guest lecturer, Jackie Wirz, assistant dean for student affairs in the graduate studies program at OHSU. She was there to present a lecture on data visualization — how researchers can present their data in more visually appealing diagrams and graphs. She said that this is a skill most scientists are never taught.

“I went through 20 years of school, but never once did I have a class on how to make data look good,” she said.

Having well-organized data, she said, has a big impact on how well others can understand the research being presented. Wirz then offered some very useful advice to students applying to graduate programs.

“If I see the word ‘passion’ on an application one more time I am going to vomit,” she said. “What we are looking for is fundamentally good human beings.”

This type of practical advice is what Hunt hopes students can gain from the class, which will make it easier for them to be successful after the graduating from the UO. Many students in the course plan to pursue some type of graduate program, particularly medical school.

Hunt said OHSU being consistently ranked as one of the nation’s top medical schools as well as the nation’s best hospital means that Clark Honors College students can build connections with researchers and faculty who can help them beyond the class.

“It could go a long way if a student had a recommendation letter from someone at OHSU,” he said.

In fact, the most popular major within the college is biology; second place goes to human physiology, a dominance which was reflected in the class major ratio. Hunt, who conceptualized the course, said that considering these large numbers, he wanted a course that catered to the specific needs and concerns of students planning to pursue graduate programs. “

This class is a way to collaborate with OHSU,” Hunt said, “so they can help us help our students be extra prepared.”

He added that often, the thought of graduate school can seem daunting to undergrads. “For some, they (grad students) are kind of mystical beings,” he said.

By working closely with graduate researchers from OHSU, he hopes students can feel more comfortable and prepared for life after the CHC.

Graboyes, an Honors College professor and assistant director of African studies, argues that the class is applicable to students of any major. In fact, as Wirz went around and asked what each student was studying, she found one was an art student and another is majoring in Spanish. Hunt is an anthropologist but nonetheless jotted down notes as Wirz went through her presentation.

“We both got a lot from that lecture that we didn’t expect going in,” Graboyes said.

She added that what she enjoys most is that the weekly topics are so diverse yet the discussions are always insightful.

“We can jump from the history of medical ethics in one class to data visualization the next,” she said. “But the level of conversation is just outstanding.”

The success of the biomedical colloquium echoes similar achievements the honors college has made recently. In the fall, Public University Honors, an independent, third-party review group, ranked the CHC among the top 10 honors programs in the nation.

The award was largely a result of coursework like this — small, discussion-based classes that emphasize critical thinking and deep research. Hunt is confident that the course will continue to build positive relations between the CHC and the top-ranked OHSU.

“Between the best undergrads in the state and the best medical school in the state — and one of the best in the country — we should be dating,” he said.

—By Derek Maiolo, Clark Honors College multimedia communications assistant