New Dean Settles In


Bauerle takes the reins of science and mathematics

image: /_images/news/2016/09/2016-CynthiaBauerle-Portrait.jpg

By Eric Gorton

About 10 weeks in as the new dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, Cynthia Bauerle says she is "chomping at the bit a little to be a full contributor." 

Bauerle began her duties July 1, following the retirement of David Brakke, who had led the college since 1999. A molecular biologist who received her undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia and her doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Bauerle spent 20 years as a biology professor before stepping into national science education work at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland.  After seven years at HHMI, she is excited to be returning to the university environment at JMU.  "It's a good institutional fit for me," she said. 

Expanding opportunities for undergraduates to participate in research is among Bauerle's goals. 

"I think we have a lot of information now to help us understand that the very best way to educate students in science is to have them do science," she said. 

While STEM departments have long held the practice of engaging students in apprentice research with faculty, there are limits to the number of students who can be accommodated.  The challenge all institutions face is in providing space and resources for large numbers of students to have the opportunity to participate in research. But the innovative approaches JMU faculty are taking to meet these challenges were among the reasons Bauerle applied for the position. 

"One of the reasons I was so interested in JMU in particular was because it's not a matter of how do we get started? It's a matter of really thinking about how do we move forward?" 

Among the innovations she has seen at JMU is use of the flipped classroom technique, where lectures and other forms of content are provided online so class time can be used for students to practice applying what they're learning. "The flipped classroom is not one specific thing, it's a collection of different strategies," she said. "If you walked through the halls or poked your head in the classrooms here, you'd see a number of different strategies that all would fall under the category of active classrooms. It's really about asking the question, what's the most important thing to do when the teacher and the learners are in the room together at the same time?" 

Another benefit of the flipped classroom technique is the time students spend working with each other. "Students learn a lot from each other and if you give them opportunities to interact then the learning can be much richer," she said. 

Bauerle also was impressed by efforts to diversify the faculty and student body at JMU, and understands that these must continue. "It's an ongoing process," she said. "What we care about is making sure that we are providing access to the entire talent pool in our communities and ultimately our nation." To do that means identifying institutional barriers and finding ways to build inclusive practices.  "We can't afford to lose the talent that we have," she says. 

Bauerle's career in higher education, including her time as a student, has taken her across the country from her hometown Charlottesville to Wisconsin to Oregon to Minnesota to Georgia to Maryland and back again to Virginia. "I have this great opportunity at an institution that's really poised to gain momentum in the next several years and here I am close to home. Who knew that was going to happen?"

Published: Friday, September 16, 2016

Last Updated: Tuesday, October 24, 2017

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