SC-INBRE Grant Supports College Goals: Faculty Scholarship, Undergraduate Research

The INBRE grant supports two major aims: to increase the number of CofC graduates enrolling in graduate programs in biomedical sciences, and to enable the investigators to acquire independent NIH funding for their biomedical research programs.

The College of Charleston is a predominantly undergraduate university. Founded in 1770, it was the first municipal college in the country. In 1970, it became part of the South Carolina State College system. The College rapidly expanded its total enrollment from about 700 in 1970 to over 11,000 today. The College is committed to excellence in teaching and in providing students with opportunities for research and scholarship with faculty in all disciplines. Faculty members are expected to pursue scholarly activities appropriate to their fields and are expected to publish in peer-reviewed journals and demonstrate other evidence of scholarly productivity.

The College of Charleston has a strong commitment to faculty scholarship and enhanced participation by students in research that is reflected in the campus-wide Strategic Plan and its implementation plan, the 4th Century Initiative.

In 2004, the College developed and the Trustees approved a new Life Sciences Initiative (LSI) to increase the importance and prominence of biomedical and biological sciences in the context of the Strategic Plan. Its key elements are a strengthened partnership in research and teaching with the Medical University of South Carolina and further development of our environmental field station that will also be linked, in part, to biomedical applications (e.g., environmental medicine and medical ecology).

The College is recognized for its academic excellence in the sciences and mathematics. All of the B.S. programs in the six departments in the School of Sciences, Mathematics, and Engineering (SSME) have received Commendations of Excellence from the South Carolina State Commission on Higher Education – a feat unmatched by any other academic institution in the state. The College ranked 11th of 1,115 predominantly undergraduate institutions in total baccalaureate degrees awarded in physics, astronomy, chemistry, geosciences, and biosciences between 1985-1997 (data from Research Corporation). Individual departments have also achieved national recognition for their achievement in undergraduate degree production.

The College educates a large number of undergraduate science and mathematics students in South Carolina. The College is a leader in the state in undergraduate degrees awarded in Chemistry, Biochemistry, Physics and Environmental Geosciences. The numbers of majors are increasing in these fields despite national trends of declining enrollments. The number of majors are stable in Biology by design (it is one of the top 5 programs in the College in total majors). SSME is also a major participant in the NSF-funded SC-Alliances for Minority Participation (SC-AMP), which seeks to increase the numbers of students of color who pursue graduate education in science and mathematics. We provide research opportunities, scholarships, learning communities and peer support as well as “intrusive” mentoring of the SC-AMP participants.

Many SSME students are heavily involved in research through research courses for credit or as paid research assistants on sponsored projects (at the College, MUSC or private industry). Research is not a requirement for graduation for the general student population; however, all Honors Program students (10 percent of any particular class cohort) must complete a research project and write a Bachelor’s Essay (essentially an undergraduate thesis). This project is typically completed in the senior year. Separate from Honors, every SSME department has a variable-credit research “course,” which students may enroll in multiple times beginning in the junior year. Typically, each year, well over 100 SSME students participate in research, either with SSME faculty or collaboratively with faculty at the Medical University, and this number has been growing in response to the College’s commitment of more resources to support student research over the past five years.

Faculty Research Environment

The College has identified three key factors which have inhibited the growth of research productivity: 1) inadequate time for research due to teaching loads; 2) inadequate instrumentation and facilities; and 3) inadequate resources for research (e.g., student stipends, supplies). Of these, the major barrier to faculty productivity continues to be inadequate time for research. Since the College is a predominantly undergraduate institution, the standard teaching load for tenure-track faculty is 12 contact hours per week. When preparation time is added, faculty members at the College devote the majority of their time to teaching and student pedagogy (e.g., directing independent study, tutorials, etc). Even though most SSME faculty are generally granted some dedicated time for research, finding time for research in this environment is challenging, particularly since there are no full-time research staff or doctoral students.

Each of the two participating INBRE departments has an active program of seminars by individuals from outside the College in key areas of interest. We use these seminar programs to invite nationally recognized leaders in areas of interest of INBRE faculty (and who might also have broader appeal). Part of the visit of these individuals will be devoted to meeting with the INBRE faculty and assisting them in their research development. INBRE students will be required to attend at least half of these seminars over the course of the year as their class schedules permit.

Between 2003-2005, SSME hired 28 new faculty, including six in biomedical and related sciences. SSME is also the lead partner with the Medical University of South Carolina in the Research Center for Economic Excellence in Marine Environmental Genomics (funded through the SC Lottery). The College is the only four-year institution in the state that is involved in this statewide program. Funding (in the form of a matched endowment) will support a senior investigator at the Medical University and a junior investigator at the College. However, except for one INBRE investigator with an NIH-AREA grant, the College does not have faculty with independent NIH funding (e.g., R01 grants). However, we believe strongly that AREA and other such programs are achievable objectives for individual faculty.

Research Facilities

The College currently has a dedicated science building of over 100,000 sq. ft. However, this facility is slated for a major renovation. To expand and modernize the College’s science facilities, construction of a new building (about 120,000 sq. ft) for biology, chemistry, biochemistry and biomedical science is being planned with the architectural firm of Ballinger and Associates. Current on-campus facilities and major equipment include a complete cell culture facility (new), scanning and transmission electron microscopes, fluorescence microscopes with digital imaging capability, a refrigerated centrifuge (purchased with SC- Biomedical Research Infrastructure Networks, BRIN funds), a PCR instrument (new, with SC-BRIN support), spectroscopic instrumentation and a 300 MHz NMR. All instrumentation is available for undergraduate research with appropriate faculty or staff oversight. SSM supports a full-time service technician who oversees the use and maintenance of instruments in all science departments. The departments of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Biology and Physics and Astronomy also employ full-time laboratory managers for their teaching and research laboratories.

The College is also a major partner institution in marine sciences and research at the Ft. Johnson campus located five miles from main campus on Charleston Harbor. The College’s nationally recognized marine biology programs (undergraduate and graduate) and the marine genomics partnership with MUSC all have their focus of activity at the College’s Grice Marine Laboratory at Ft. Johnson. The Grice Laboratory houses a DNA sequencing laboratory (the College supports a full-time dedicated technician.) The College is also a partner at the Hollings Marine Laboratory, an 80,000 sq. ft state-of-the-art facility at Ft. Johnson that supports research in physical, biological and biomedical marine sciences. In fall of 2005, this facility gained two Nuclear Magnetic Resonance instruments (800 mHz and 600 mHz). The College will share in the research time available for these machines.