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David Mullins

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 26 - April 2, 1998

Teaching 11 lab sections of three different microbiology laboratories over three years, David Mullins designed new experiments for the undergraduate labs, put information and interactive material on the web, and involved undergraduate students in teaching by selecting student teachers of the day, requiring oral presentations, and student demonstrations. And he earned nearly perfect student evaluations from 275 students--3.95 out of 4.0.
Mullins, a Ph.D. candidate in biology, will be honored as the 1998 winner of Virginia Tech's Graduate Teaching Assistant Excellence Award.
Mullins makes sure he knows his students' names, does dry runs of experiments to find the most instructive approach, and gives students the individual attention they need, not only during lab or office hours, but outside of office hours as well. With 60 percent of his students from majors other than biology, he made sure all students understood the material, taking care not to embarrass those who lacked fundamental lab experience.
"By the completion of the course, all non-majors had acquired a proficiency in microbiological techniques that were equal to or better than those who had completed advanced laboratory courses," wrote one faculty colleague.
Mullins incorporated current news and every-day experiences into his lessons, and involved students using "what-if" scenarios. He not only prepared new material for his classes, he prepared himself, attending three programs offered by the Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Education.
Working with four undergraduate researchers, he taught them not only how to do the work, but how to write grants for funding, to get internships and other research opportunities, and to present their work. "He gave me the confidence and determination to continue my education in biology," wrote one. "He has challenged me to my fullest potential," wrote another.
Mullins is also an outstanding student and researcher. He earned bachelor's degrees in biology in 1993 and in biochemistry in 1994 from Virginia Tech. While an undergraduate he worked as a research associate for Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine for two summers. He worked a year as a research assistant for the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, and as a quality control lab manager for a Charlottesville company. He started graduate school at Virginia Tech 1994.
His cancer-related research has been supported by two Sigma Xi grants, two Graduate Research Development Program grants, and a Virginia Academy of Science grant, and he and his advisor, Klaus Elgert, were awarded a Horsley Cancer Fund grant.
"He has demonstrated the most research productivity of any entering student in my laboratory," wrote Elgert. Mullins' awards include best student paper presentations at the Virginia Academy of Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Virginia branch of the American Society of Microbiologists. He has written or been co-author of 26 abstracts, presented at 17 national, regional, and local meetings, is senior author of five papers, and is a co-author of a major review article in the file of cancer immunology.