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Dr. Joseph Rugutt, right, assistant professor of chemistry at Missouri State University-West Plains explains aspects of the university’s guided-inquiry project for undergraduate chemistry courses to a guest at the National Science Foundation (NSF) Symposium Sept. 9 and 10 in Indianapolis, Ind.  Rugutt was joined in the presentation by Assistant Professor of Mathematics/Physics Dr. Taewan Park and Instructional Designer Chulapol Thanomsing.  (Photo provided)

Dr. Joseph Rugutt, right, assistant professor of chemistry at Missouri State University-West Plains explains aspects of the university’s guided-inquiry project for undergraduate chemistry courses to a guest at the National Science Foundation (NSF) Symposium Sept. 9 and 10 in Indianapolis, Ind. Rugutt was joined in the presentation by Assistant Professor of Mathematics/Physics Dr. Taewan Park and Instructional Designer Chulapol Thanomsing. (Photo provided)

(West Plains) – Three faculty and staff members from Missouri State University-West Plains participated in a National Science Foundation (NSF) Symposium Sept. 9 and 10 in Indianapolis, Ind., to present results of on ongoing guided-inquiry chemistry project during the 246th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Through NSF’s competitive selection process, Associate Professor of Chemistry Dr. Joseph Rugutt, Assistant Professor of Mathematics/Physics Dr. Taewan Park and Instructional Designer Chulapol Thanomsing were selected to give a presentation about their project, “US-Africa Collaboration in Infusing Undergraduate Chemistry Courses with Guided-Inquiry and Research-Based Green Nanoscience Experiments,” to a national and international audience.

“With heavy teaching loads of about 18 contact hours per week and other college responsibilities, science faculty in undergraduate institutions struggle to find the time required to carry out publishable research,” said Rugutt, the lead investigator on the project. “To address this problem, we and a consortium of undergraduate institutions in the U.S. and Africa have identified a focused, multidisciplinary research project that will strengthen and add value to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education.”

The centerpiece of the collaboration is an undergraduate research experiment involving “Bioassay-Guided Isolation of Novel Bioactive Compounds Similar to Drugs Already Approved by the FDA.” The research is designed to actively engage students in the process of science while hopefully leading to new and potentially transformative discoveries in the field, he explained.

“Specifically, guided-inquiry teaching requires students to be proactive in evaluating their experimental data to answer a question posed by the experiment,” Rugutt said. “In the process, students not only enjoy doing the experiments, but also develop critical thinking skills as they learn the art of data interpretation.”

Since joining Missouri State-West Plains in spring 2012, Rugutt and his colleagues have been recasting traditional “cookbook” experiments into creative guided-inquiry experiments. Although they require instructors to invest a lot of time, energy and resources, their results are worth the extra effort, he said.

“The experiments pique the students’ interests in science because they are selected based on NSF’s high priority areas – that is, nanomaterials, novel drugs and green chemicals,” he said. “They also relate to societal needs such as HIV, prostate cancer, diabetes and tuberculosis.

“We treasure the opportunity to train future scientists, and we want to give them the opportunity to ‘feel good’ about dealing with real life issues, such as discovering new prostate cancer drugs,” he added.

As part of the guided-inquiry project, Rugutt took one of his students, Joshua Howell of West Plains, with him to Kenya during the holiday break in December 2012 and January 2013 for a presentation to faculty from the consortium institutions. During the trip, Howell learned about different Kenyan cultures by visiting national parks, caves, orphanage homes and educational institutions. The trip was designed to promote multiculturalism and global awareness.

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