Dr. Vanwagoner's lab Science students have first-class mentor, teacher

You can’t learn everything in a lecture. You also learn by observing, and as your grandpa might have encouraged, by rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty.

Well, maybe you should wear gloves when it comes to lab work. And protective eye gear, something you probably learned in a lecture or two from your mom.

With the new Kim Gaither Center for Biology and Noble Science Wing now open at OC, undergraduate students have their very own space to pursue research.

OC has earned the reputation in the higher ed and research communities as being a primo place for undergraduate research. It’s also one of the only undergrad labs around.

The lab gives students their own domain to grow specimens, test theories and evaluate data without being kicked out over scheduling conflicts.

“When students are involved in research, they tell me that their classroom experience becomes more interesting. It makes it three-dimensional, so the information comes off the page,” said Dr. Tim VanWagoner, chair of OC’s Department of Biology. “They understand it and are more excited about science.”

In the process, students gain critical thinking and problem solving skills, which will pay off not only in their education, but in their careers and lives.

Dr. VanWagoner said it’s important for students to have a research mindset because many professional programs – medicine, physical therapy, pharmacy, physician’s assistant and others – require it.

A bonus to OC students is the excellent reputation, along with genuine respect, that OC faculty enjoy with the OU Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, and private research businesses. These relationships help OC students with research, internships and future careers.

“We have really great students,” Dr. VanWagoner said. “Our job is to help them understand just what they are capable of. Some students will someday be true leaders in their field, but don’t realize it yet.”

That’s good mentoring from someone who wore his own undergrad lab coat at OC. His own early experiences in research prompted Tim VanWagoner to pursue graduate school.

Now, he’s the teacher … and a published researcher doing important work at OC and on the faculty at OUHSC in bacterial pathogenesis that could lead to a vaccine to help with ear and lung infections in children.

That’s something Grandpa and Mom can be proud of.

By Dawn Shelton