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Mark Martin Background:

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Hello!  My name is Mark Martin, and I am a newly tenured (just finishing sabbatical) Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Puget Sound.  Puget Sound is an undergraduate-based liberal arts institution in Tacoma, Washington, with about 3000 students total.  I spend much of my time teaching, and have a small undergraduate laboratory where my students and I study the genetics of predatory bacteria (and some interesting microbe-animal associations).  Prior to getting back to teaching in 1995, I worked in the biotech industry and published a couple of (sssh…) science fiction novels.


I was once called a “microbial supremacist,” and now wear the title with pride on campus.  My wife Dr. Jennifer J. Quinn is a mathematics professor and administrator at the University of Washington-Tacoma, and we have two sons (eleven year old Anson and eight year old Zachary).  So in between teaching, a bit of research, and being a husband and father, I am thoroughly tired…but in a good way. 


1) Describe your teaching responsibilities and the type of student you teach. 


I teach two basic classes:  my senior level Microbiology course (lecture and laboratory:  24 students organized into three lab sections of eight) and my freshman Unity of Life (introduction to cell and molecular biology, lecture and laboratory:  48 students organized into three lab sections of sixteen).  In addition, I teach a Colloquium class from time to time, along with a Research Methods course.  In my current Post Tenure Stress Syndrome state, I am told I will be teaching a freshman writing course next Spring to eighteen students (likely topic:  “Living Together:  Parasitism and Symbioses” although I am being pushed into teaching a “A Look at the Science in Science Fiction”).  Lots to do! 


Regarding my student population…  As with many predominantly undergraduate liberal arts institution, our student population tends to be from well to do families, and not very diverse (to the consternation of my institution).  The students are generally pleasant, overcommitted time-wise, and poorly served by their secondary education (most of my students arrive not knowing how to study or manage time effectively; I have had some success with my academic advisees helping with this problem).  I feel that I have a decent “handle” on my student population (since I have taught at two small liberal arts institutions), and work hard to cheerlead them into reaching their academic goals.  I have had fourteen of my prior research students enter PhD programs in the biological sciences, which makes me feel I am on the right track. 


2) Describe what you would like to take home as a result of attending the Assessment Institute. 


I am increasingly alarmed at how little students appear to retain from their courses, or take to more advanced courses.  So thinking about what to teach and how to measure learning has been much on my mind the past few years.  Recently, I have begun to give a standardized test to my Microbiology students on the first day of class and the last; I have concrete data that they are learning information!  Yet surely there are more effective ways to assess what the students are learning, so that I can improve my pedagogical approaches and determine if they improve learning outcomes.  Overall, my departmental colleagues very much want to begin assessing our classrooms and labs in a fashion that yields helpful data:  we all want to do better, and move forward in helping our students reach their educational goals. 


Thus:  I hope to bring home a variety of tools (and become part of a collaborative  network of like-minded educators) to better measure learning in my (and my colleagues’) classroom(s).   My colleagues in Tacoma look forward to what I will be learning. 


3) Tell us about your interests outside of the classroom and a book that you have read recently. 


As I mentioned above, I sincerely wish that I had MUCH more time than I do.  That being said, I enjoy cooking, reading, hiking, working with my two young sons (I will never get these moments back after my sons grow up, so I appreciate my time with them now so very much), and playing around with my koi pond.  I read aloud to my family every night.  I am starting to write again, and have had some essays on microbiology published on ASM’s “Small Things Considered” blog (I would love to write a book titled “Microbial Supremacy” someday).  I am also beginning to get back to writing fiction (though my time is better spent on getting more research articles published, I know!).  My wife and I just returned from a wonderful trip to New Zealand, and we hope to travel more in the near future.  


So far as books go, I read a great deal, and have a large library.  There are several books that have influenced me recently.  “Academically Adrift,” by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, is a controversial and iconoclastic book well worth reading and thinking deeply about (as is “The Fall of the Faculty,” by Benjamin Ginsberg).  Undergraduate education is changing, and we need to be vigilant, flexible, and look toward concrete measures of improvement (hence my interest in this institute).  


So far as pleasure reading, I personally do not care for trendy sparkly vampires or snarky magicians (though my family and I enjoyed reading the Rick Riordan “Percy Jackson” novels and the ubiquitous “Hunger Game” novels together).  Vernor Vinge’s superb “Children of the Sky” was wonderful, and I continued to cheer on George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Throne” series of novels.  For young people, I recommend Naomi Novik’s remarkable Temeraire series (start with “His Majesty’s Dragon,” which is much more deep and intriguing than it sounds).   I love the written word, and there are so many writers (in different genres) whose work I enjoy. 

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