Missouri State University
CNAS NewsWatch
An online publication for the alumni and friends of the College of Natural and Applied Sciences

‘The learning environment was contagious’

When Dr. Greg Garrison first came to Missouri State he planned on studying dairy science.Greg Garrison

“We were required to take a course on soils and crops which had a pre-requisite of chemistry,” said Garrison. “I took my first chemistry course, 110 with Dr. Ernst, and was hooked from that semester. I changed my major to chemistry and never looked back.”

The fact that MSU offered dairy science and was a short commute from home solidified Garrison’s decision to attend Missouri State.

In his upcoming seminar on Feb. 24, Garrison will discuss the oilfield industry, drilling and completing oil and gas wells.

“I want to give the students an introduction to the oilfield; it’s something most people in this part of the world have little exposure to,” said Garrison. “Myself, I didn’t know anything until my first job in 1994.”

Garrison owns Oilfield Testing and Consulting, a company that owns several oilfield-related businesses and operations. The company also provides independent laboratory testing for cement and drilling fluids.

“People have heard about working in the oilfield but when I was a student there was zero exposure to the industry at MSU. The oilfield is a very dynamic place to work with numerous opportunities for all disciplines,” said Garrison. “Personally I would have never imagined so many different jobs and companies are associated with the oil and gas industry. The industry is not portrayed in the brightest of lights because of accidents or industry practices that are not understood by the public.”

Garrison not only wants to share his knowledge of the oilfield industry, but also why his time at Missouri State was important.

“The learning environment was contagious; everyone wanted to see hard work and dedication pay off,” said Garrison. “Even though a person may not work in a specific discipline, a quality education always prepares you for change and new adventures.”

Garrison received a BS in comprehensive chemistry in 1988 from Missouri State and a PhD in organic chemistry from Oklahoma State in 1992.

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‘I received an excellent education at MSU’

Sarah ElseaDr. Sarah Elsea always had a love for science and medicine, but wasn’t sure where she was going to study for her bachelors degree until she received a Presidential Scholarship from Missouri State.

“It helped seal the deal,” said Elsea. “I received an excellent education at MSU. I had opportunities for research and internships that students at other institutions did not have. These experiences helped guide me and prepare me for the choices that I later made in my educational path and in my career.”

Elsea received her bachelor of science in chemistry with a minor in biology in 1990, but she always carried her Missouri State experiences with her.

“I was also quite involved in a variety of student groups while on campus, and those groups absolutely enhanced my experience at MSU,” said Elsea. “These groups included Pride Band and wind ensembles, Student Alumni Association—now called R.E.A.L. Bears—Tri-Beta, student ACS and others.”

At her upcoming visit to MSU to speak at a seminar Feb. 24, Elsea is going to discuss an emerging area in genetic diagnostics called clinical metabolomics.

“We have developed a process that when integrated with genomic analysis, improves diagnosis of rare inborn errors of metabolism, providing diagnoses for individuals and families affected by these rare conditions,” said Elsea.Sarah Elsea with students

She has had the chance to visit campus since her time as a student, and she always enjoys returning.

“I enjoy visiting with the faculty who were here when I was a student, and meeting new faculty and students, as well,” said Elsea. “I was given some really fantastic opportunities when I was at MSU and was surrounded by faculty that cared about my education and path in life. I’m happy to come back and to support the work that is happening on campus.”

Elsea is currently associate professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine and is Senior Division Director of Biochemical Genetics at Baylor Genetics. She received her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Vanderbilt University.

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Emerging from the shadows: Alumnus directs Oscar-nominated film

Theodore Melfi on the set of “Hidden Figures.” TM and © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Looking back, Missouri State alumnus Theodore Melfi remembered a line: We all get there together or we don’t get there at all.

Kevin Costner said those words as Al Harrison, a fictional character in “Hidden Figures,” the Academy Award-nominated movie that Melfi wrote and directed. The film is about three black women whose expertise in mathematics were vital to NASA at the dawn of the United States space program.

That was the early 1960s, a time when the Space Race with the Soviet Union ran parallel to the civil rights movement in the U.S.

In the cases of those three women – Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – those issues reached intersections at a time when NASA, composed primarily of white men, was ready to send a human being into space.

“It’s how a group of people – black, white, men and women – got together and achieved something great by pure willpower and putting their differences aside,” Melfi said. “Was it hard? Yes. Was it uncomfortable? Yes. But that’s what happens when people get together.”

Making the story come to life

Melfi graduated in 1994 with a degree in construction, drafting and design. His screenplay with Hollywood screenwriter Allison Schroeder was based on a book written by Margot Lee Shetterly in September 2016.

After reading Shetterly’s work, Melfi said, the story became one in which directors stop everything they’re doing and do the best they can to make it right.

“I was blown away,” Melfi said. “I couldn’t believe that we don’t know this story. I never knew there were women working in engineering and aeronautics at NASA in 1961 during the Space Race, and I sure didn’t know they were black women.”

Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae). TM and © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

An ongoing effort for equality

The issue of equal treatment for women in the workplace continues more than 50 years after the Space Race. It’s especially true for women working in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

In fact, a 2017 report from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics showed the degree to which women, minorities and people who have disabilities are underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce.

The data showed that women have attained balance with men in science and engineering education but not in employment.

Cynthia Morales-Bejarano, a junior physics major, is working to help improve that situation for students at Missouri State. She started Women in STEM, a student organization for women who want to have careers in the sciences.

Morales-Bejarano, now 28, started college when she was 18 and said a lot has changed in the last decade for women in the sciences. But there’s still plenty to do, which is why she took the initiative to start the organization.

“I felt like I wasn’t doing as well and maybe it was because I was a girl,” she said. “Maybe I really shouldn’t be in this class. All of my peers are men.

“My goal with having a club was if you have that internalized bias, to be able to reach out to other women to help you. To have women who are your peers, who are in your age group, to be like, ‘OK, if she can do it, I can do it too.'”

Cynthia Morales-Bejarano

Inclusion is the key

Missouri State’s physics department stands out as one that values women in STEM fields, Morales-Bejarano said, noting that she doesn’t ever feel that she’s seen differently than male faculty members and students see one another.

That kind of inclusive environment is the key to the on-campus Women in STEM organization.

“We don’t only talk about women’s issues,” Morales-Bejarano said. “We have conversations with one another and we get to know one another. We want it to be about science. It just happens to be we also want to remind everyone that women should be considered as equals in the sciences.”

Achieving that equality starts from the ground up with organizations like the one at Missouri State, said Allison Nugent, a MSU physics alumna who is now director of neuroimaging research at the National Institute of Mental Health.

“A lot of the value of women in STEM organizations is really education,” Nugent said. “I think pulling girls into physics is one-half of the solution, but it’s also educating boys too that this isn’t something that’s unusual.”

Oscar-nominated actress Octavia Spencer and Theodore Melfi. TM and © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

“We put a human being in a tin can on top of a ballistic missile”

For Melfi, the result of telling a story about civil rights and women in STEM was a box office hit. “Hidden Figures” beat “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” the weekend of Jan. 6-8, 2017 with $22.8 million in ticket sales. In total, the film has earned more than $131 million in the United States.

It’s also been nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Motion Picture, Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Octavia Spencer) and Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay. Melfi’s name is attached to two of those nominations.

The journey of making the movie was a thrill, Melfi said.

“The biggest surprise for me was that we put a human being in a tin can on top of a ballistic missile and said, ‘We’re going to shoot you up there, and we think we can get you back down.'”

They succeeded, and three black female pioneers made it happen.

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Get involved with hospitality leadership: Meet with recruiters, hear from current professionals

HR students at the expo in 2016Networking is one of the most important activities for students preparing for life after college. This spring, hospitality leadership students have two exciting opportunities to grow their network by learning from current hospitality professionals and establishing connections with potential employers.

Connect with employers at the Hospitality Career Fair

The Hospitality Career Fair will take place March 1 from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. in Pummill Hall and the Plaster Student Union ballroom.

Companies will give presentations for interested students from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Students will then have the opportunity to shake hands and get more information during the fair itself from 1:30-3:30 p.m.

As one of few departments to offer its own career fair, the Hospitality Career Fair is just one reason why the department of hospitality leadership celebrates a 92% job placement rate.

Tips and tricks from the department head

To prepare for the fair, Dr. Stephanie Hein, hospitality leadership department head, says students should do their research and come eager to demonstrate hospitality to the companies that attend.

“Whether you are a freshman or a senior, the Hospitality Career Fair is an incredible opportunity to network,” said Hein. “It should be your goal to make such a good impression that when the recruiter returns to campus, they are looking for you rather than you looking for them.”

Hein has three words of advice for students who receive an offer for an interview: Practice, practice, practice.

“Take advantage of resources on campus, such as the Career Center, to prepare yourself for the interview,” said Hein. “Be prepared to communicate your strengths and weaknesses and explain how you get back up when things do not go as planned.”

Finally, according to Hein, wise students will immediately follow up after their interview with a handwritten thank-you note.

Hear from a leading hospitality executive at the Speaker Series

The department of hospitality leadership welcomes a high-profile, high-level executive from the field of hospitality management each spring.

This year, Stephen M. O’Loughlin, president and chief operating officer of Lodging Hospitality Management, will visit campus on March 30 to speak at 2 p.m. in the Plaster Student Union Theater.

O’Loughlin started his hotel career in high school working at Stouffer’s in 1984. Throughout high school and college, he worked in a variety of disciplines of the business, including maintenance, reservations, banquets and accounting.

O’Loughlin’s early career included experience with Holiday Inn, Sheraton, Hilton and Marriot before arriving at Lodging Hospitality Management in 1997. He currently serves on the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, the Community Improvement District board for the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis, and the Hilton Owners Advisory Council.

The Speaker Series, says Hein, is a special opportunity for students and the community to interact with an executive they would not typically get the chance to meet.

The event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Hein at 417-836-5159.

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Cuba at a glance: Students travel to Cuba

In February 2016, the U.S. struck a deal with the Cuban government to resume scheduled flights between the two countries. Now, for the first time in Missouri State University’s history, a group of students took a January intercession course in the long banned island. Led by Dr. Alexander Wait, professor of biology, students took a 9-day journey to learn more about “The History, Culture and Ecology of Cuba: Past, Present and Future.”

The 10 students had varying personal and curricular reasons behind the venture – some to learn more about the Spanish language, some the history and culture, some the ecology of the island.

Listen to the interview below and see photos from the trip.

A few unique reflections:

  • Flan was served at – what seemed like – every meal
  • Car aficionados would enjoy Cuba
  • Historical buildings are being modernized and converted to hotels – visit soon to get a clearer picture of historical Cuba (it may be unrecognizable in the near future)
  • Reef is great for snorkeling – hasn’t been ruined by the tourist industry and has been protected because of Fidel Castro’s love for it
  • Cuban food was fantastic, though not vegetarian-friendly
  • Cows are all owned by the government – trying to replenish the population – and they cannot be slaughtered for food
  • Beef is imported from Canada – making it scarce and expensive
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Winter Ecology course focused on migration, hibernation

Students doing research during the winter ecology course.Over the winter intersession, students enrolled in the Winter Ecology course with Dr. Janice Greene took several field trips, including to Springfield Lake, Sequiota Park, the Watershed Center and several urban lakes.

“Students learned about bird identification in the lab and in the field, data collection and analysis and other science process skills,” said Greene. “This class also helps students to see how organisms must adapt to changes in their environments.”

The students did several things during the course:

  • looked at how plants and animals specifically adapt to life in winter here in Missouri and in the far north
  • discussed the three major strategies of migration, hibernation and resistance
  • researched specific organisms that live in Missouri and how they adapt to winter
  • discussed how snow can help some organisms and hurt others
  • discussed how snow insulates whether new or old snow better and why
  • identified winter trees
  • discussed how insects can overwinter in different life stages (egg, larva, pupa or adult) and how do they do it

“We looked for winter birds, both aquatic birds and ‘feeder birds.’ Bird feeders are an easy way to learn local birds that resist the winter and stay here and those that migrate to Missouri to avoid harsh winters,” said Greene. “We took air and soil temperature, wind, and light readings on north and south slopes to compare microclimates and discuss why organisms might prefer certain areas to others.”

Greene noted that the weather was warmer this year, which made it easier on students. It was a busy but fun course.Students doing research during the winter ecology course.

Many other courses in the biology department will allow students to get hands-on experience out in the field during this spring semester:

  • BIO 369, General Ecology, Dr. Brian Greene
  • BIO 533/633, Wetland Ecology, Dr. La Toya Kissoon-Charles
  • BIO 573/673, Ornithology, Dr. Janice Greene
  • BIO 576/676, Herpetology, Dr. Brian Greene
  • BIO 509/609, Stream Ecology, Dr. Deb Finn

Learn more about biology course offerings.

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Volunteer at the upcoming Science Olympiad

Temple Hall.The Region VII Science Olympiad is coming up on Feb. 25 and volunteers are needed to help with various tasks, from assisting with events to helping deliver lunches.

Approximately 600 people are expected to attend the annual event.

“Olympiad is a great opportunity for middle school and high school students to get positive reinforcement in STEM education, and at the same time acquainting them with a collegiate atmosphere,” said Ben Dalton, director of region VII. “Most of the students are local, and seeing the campus will contribute to their decision on where they attend college. Ultimately, we want to provide the students with an environment where the students can have fun exercising their minds in the sciences.”

There are a variety of events, ranging from anatomy and physiology, to helicopters, to astronomy. For more information on volunteering, contact Ben Dalton via email at BDalton@MissouriState.edu

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Annual MSEP Discover Engineering Day approaching

Young children at a previous Engineering Day.Have elementary-aged children or just elementary-aged at heart? Plan to attend Discover Engineering Day hosted by the Missouri Society of Professional Engineers (MSPE) February 18 from noon to 3 p.m.

“Students will learn about aspects of many different kinds of engineering and how it impacts their lives,” said Matthew Pierson, event organizer and associate professor of engineering. “Exposure to engineers and what they do is important to young people’s understanding of the world and how they can participate.”

The event will feature interactive booths displaying various aspects of engineering.

Time: noon-3 p.m.

Cost: Free, no RSVP required

Location: Plaster Center for Free Enterprise, 406 N. Boonville Ave.

Parking: Parking lot on the east side of Boonville Ave. and Mill St. intersection

More information: Contact Matthew Pierson by phone at 417-837-2320 or via email at matthewpierson@missouristate.edu

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