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TU’s Dr. LeAnna Willison (front row, fourth from right), joined 20 other participants in the Tiny Earth training at the University of Connecticut in July.


‘Tiny Earth’ brings public health fight to TU students

Thomas University is joining the push to mitigate one of the most critical public health crises facing the world – antibiotic resistance – by participating in the Tiny Earth network. TU joins Spelman College, Georgia Gwinnett College and Young Harris College as the only institutions from Georgia participating in the program.

Dr. LeAnna Willison, Assistant Professor of Biology took part in a week-long training to become a partner instructor in the Tiny Earth network. Founded by University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Jo Handelsman, Tiny Earth has a two-fold mission. Program coordinators hope to encourage students to pursue careers in science through real-world applicable laboratory and field research in introductory courses. Tiny Earth coordinators also want to address a worldwide health threat – the diminishing supply of effective antibiotics – by tapping into the collective power of many student researchers concurrently tackling the same challenge, living up to Tiny Earth’s motto, “student sourcing antibiotic discovery.”

“I am excited to introduce this program to our students and the community,” Dr. Willison said. “This program allows students to become involved in a research-based project that has a direct impact on healthcare and the future of medicine. It is my hope that students will enjoy the project and develop a better understanding of soil and the importance of microbes in it.”

To achieve these goals, the initiative leverages a network of partner institutions where instructors learn the curriculum and integrate the research protocols in their lab-based courses at universities, colleges, and high schools. Tiny Earth’s student scientists, many of them experiencing the scientific method in action for the first time, hunt for novel antibiotic organisms in soil samples. It’s a global and growing network, the community of instructors now encompasses 15 countries and 46 U.S. states.

Dr. Willison is part of the initiative’s commitment to engage schools, colleges, departments, and aspiring scientists across the country. From July 15-19 a total of 15 instructors from institutions across the United States and Canada, and five instructors from four countries (Botswana, Ecuador, Pakistan, and Switzerland), attended an intensive five-day training at the University of Connecticut.

“Tiny Earth’s newest batch of partner instructors are an inspiring cohort of researchers and educators already bringing fresh ideas to Tiny Earth’s core mission of engaging undergraduate and high school students in real discovery,” said Tiny Earth Science and Training Director, Dr. Nichole Broderick, an Assistant Professor at the University of Connecticut.

Dr. Willison will implement Tiny Earth in microbiology and senior seminar courses at TU in the spring of 2020.

Education that Engages... Empowers... TRANSFORMS

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