When she arrived at Marquette almost 9 years ago, Dr. Gail Schumann knew that a biology class for non-science majors needed to be focused differently than a class taught to science oriented students. Over the years, she has developed a unique course that uses the story of the human food supply to teach undergraduates basic biological concepts like genetics, and ecology. Armed with these tools, Dr. Schumann hopes that her students will go on to be informed citizens, with the ability to think critically about important issues in the real world.
The class uses two texts. The first is a textbook coauthored by Dr. Schumann and her colleague, Dr. Cleora D’Arcy at the University of Illinois. Hungry Planet: Stories of Plant Diseases uses plant pathology and food supply as a framework to teach an introduction to a variety of biological concepts. The second book is Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals which Dr. Schumann uses for class discussions and to encourage students to read and think about different ways to approach difficult issues. As the mantra has tried to drill into her students says, “Complex problems don’t have easy solutions”. Dr. Schumann makes sure to keep the class interesting and engaging for students by providing plenty of classroom examples, such as growing oomycetes in a beaker from river water and popcorn, and by putting on a unique thanksgiving party with a fungal theme. Last year’s “Fungus Party” menu included corn smut (Ustilago maydis) with corn chips and sautéed agaric (Agaricus bisporus) mushrooms, as well as bread (yeast is a fungus) and gingerbread (which was originally invented to disguise fungal tastes in flour).
As Dr. Schumann will be retiring at the end of the semester, this fall’s offering of Plants, Pathogens, and People will be the last time the course will be offered. Dr. Schumann, and the class, will be missed, but she is excited to move on to other things. She will, however, be leaving Marquette an important legacy. Another project she has been involved with over the years has been developing Marquette’s Wisconsin Native Tree Collection. This collection features many of Wisconsin’s native trees and shrubs. The plants are labeled, and an interpretive map allows visiting groups or individuals to find all of the different species planted around campus. If you are interested in finding out more about this collection, take a look at the current brochure, and keep an eye out for the new, updated version coming later this fall.
The Biological Undergraduate Society, or BUS, provides an opportunity for students to network with and get to know faculty and other students involved in the Department of Biological Sciences. BUS members have an opportunity to work with faculty and other students to plan and host social, education, and service events and activities like department open houses, hosting guest speakers to hear about leading research across the country, and participating in service like tutoring high school students.