When you think of a typical service learning course, molecular genetics might not be the first class that springs to mind. Not so for Dr. Kimberlee Mix, Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. Dr. Mix received a Service Learning Course Development Stipend in May 2012 to incorporate a hands-on community-based learning component into this upper-level biology elective.Generously funded by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation, the stipend will afford Dr. Mix the opportunity to develop a partnership with the New Orleans BioInnovation Center (NOBIC), a technology incubator in downtown New Orleans which promotes life science entrepreneurship. Says Dr. Mix:
Molecular genetics is a fascinating field that explores the basis of inheritance at the biochemical level. In class, we study the structure and function of deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA. Yet, our biochemical understanding of the double-helix is often disconnected from bigger issues in the world around us. Engaging in service learning activities with NOBIC will provide valuable links between course material and real-world solutions to major biomedical and environmental problems.
The prominent science journal Nature has recently taken notice of NOBIC, noting its significant role in job creation, economic development, and the retention of scientific entrepreneurs in southeast Louisiana. Even more important to Dr. Mix, however, is that serving with NOBIC will give her students the opportunity to “reflect on their roles as scientists in society.”
Although some may assume that the natural and physical sciences are the most difficult disciplines to link to Jesuit values and service learning, it helps to remember that scientific research has always been an important part of Jesuit education, even since its beginnings in the 16th century. Jesuits like Pierre Teilhard de Chardin have been influential scientists. Jesuit colleges and universities around the world continue to produce top-shelf research in cutting-edge laboratories.
Dr. Mix’ insight is a valuable one. Students of the sciences at Loyola — like all students — must be formed, not just informed. They must be challenged not only to master disciplinary content and achieve proficiency in the latest research techniques, but also to harness the power of science for social justice and the common good.
The incorporation of a service learning component into a class on molecular genetics affirms the insight of Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, SJ, former superior general of the Society of Jesus:
Every discipline, beyond its necessary specialization, must engage with human society, human life, and the environment in appropriate ways, cultivating moral concern about how people ought to live together. (“The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education,” 2000)
I’m grateful to Dr. Mix and her collaborators at NOBIC for helping us realize Fr. Kolvenbach’s vision at Loyola.