Xavier Magazine

Of Einstein and Dinosaurs

More than a decade after retiring, biology teacher Jack Berninger is still teaching. He doesn’t know how to stop. If he isn’t offering a lecture or leading a nature hike in Ohio or Indiana, chances are, he’s doing it in the Florida Everglades.

Xavier Magazine

Alumni Profile: Nature’s Steward

Sally Gladwell
Bachelor of Science in Biology, 1993
Vice President, Mannik Smith Group
Toledo, Ohio

Environmental Pioneer | Gladwell’s interest in the environment dates to her childhood. At Xavier, she promoted recycling long before the University made green a priority. Now with MannikSmith, an environmental consultancy, she focuses on sustainable development. She’s also vice president of the board at the Black Swamp Conservancy, a land trust that protects farmland and open space from development.

An Early Affinity | “My interest grew out of a curiosity and vision of stewardship when I was a teen. I grew up with a love of nature. My happiest childhood memories took place outdoors. That grew into a commitment to make sure we had an energy-efficient home.”

Longterm Vision | At Xavier, “I really started to see my interest in the environment as a vision for a career. I wanted my career to be more than a way to support myself and my family, but also a way to contribute to the common good.”

Early Recycler | “I got involved with the recycling initiative on campus, using blue vans from Physical Plant to collect recyclables. Some offices weren’t willing to go to the trouble of setting things aside, but overall we got good support.”

Earthcare | “I helped found EarthCare out of the Dorothy Day House, an inspirational and foundational effort for me, and we received Club of the Year. We focused on expanding recycling and sponsored programs on farming, food challenges and how to be responsible consumers.”

Sustainable Developer | At Mannik Smith, Gladwell works on developing abandoned or underused land in urban areas, known as brownfields, into office space, retail, entertainment venues and housing. She developed funding strategies for an entertainment district being built by the Toledo Mud Hens minor-league baseball team. The district, known as Hensville, is redeveloping three vacant buildings and a vacant parking lot into a $21 million outdoor event space with sustainable stormwater management.

Wake-up Call | “Urban revitalization is one of the reasons I get up each morning. The most sustainable way for people to live is in cities and urban centers. Abandoning the urban core and regional sprawl has a cost that’s not just financial.”

Urban Core | “Once people understand a topic, they have a greater appreciation for environmental stewardship and sustainability. But I think people don’t understand that urban centers are a more sustainable way of living. It ripples out from environmental to economic sustainability.”

Abundant Opportunities | “I challenge myself to bring an environmental awareness to everything. I’m always trying to bring to mind what we can do as an organization to be more sustainable.”

Xavier Magazine

Better Biology: Beating Cancer

Cancer sucks. So Jennifer Sunderman Broo is doing something about it.

Rather than teaching the same old boring curriculum about cells, the biology teacher at St. Ursula Academy in Cincinnati developed her own curriculum that teaches her students about the cell cycle by studying cancer cells and the havoc they wreak.

“The War of the 21st Century: The Cell Cycle, Cancer and Clinical Trials” is a two-week unit of seven lessons aimed at challenging the way her students think about cancer. “This actually walks students through the history of cancer,” says Broo, who earned an MEd in 2006. “They get a better idea of the cell cycle and how genes actually influence it.”

Broo wrote the curriculum while taking a summer workshop and internship at the University of Florida in 2012, doing research and staring at leukemia cells in a petri dish. She and a fellow intern, another high-school science teacher, co-wrote the curriculum based on their findings.

“We were trying new combinations of drugs to treat leukemia cells, and our task was to design a lesson plan that brought life science into classrooms,” Broo says. “We got carried away and developed seven plans that fit into any bio teacher’s curriculum of the cell cycle.”

Broo and her partner presented the new curriculum at the National Association of Biology Teachers conference in November, and the university posted a free version of it on its website. She incorporated it in her sophomore biology class at St. Ursula, where she started teaching last fall after moving back to Cincinnati.

“Cancer is becoming really common,” she says. “One of the first questions I ask my students is how many know someone with cancer. All raise their hands, and about two-thirds do when I ask how many have had family members with cancer.”

Students learn about clinical trials, even conducting their own research, and can view the websites of ongoing trials. It can be a real surprise for some.

“Students are horrified that some people are not getting helped by these trials,” Broo says. “One of the big shifts in science education is to focus on teaching science through real life examples. This unit emphasizes that science is a collaborative effort of scientists and patients all working together to find a cure for cancer.”

Xavier Magazine

Beetle Mania: Eradicating Invasive Bug Species

Biology professor Annie Ray clicks her pen, closes her spiral notebook and snaps the trap shut, feeling satisfied with her catch. She’s not exactly sure what kind of beetles are crawling in the Portland warehouse on this spring morning, but she knows that the ones in her trap will bring her closer to saving the world—parts of it, at least.

When Ray’s not on campus, she’s probably not at home or on vacation, either. In fact, she likes to keep busy on her days off. Ray, who has a doctorate in entomology (that’s the study of bugs), spends her extra time partnering with customs agents and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to understand how invasive insects, specifically the longhorned wood-boring beetle, thrive in foreign habitats. Basically, international pest-control.

Not much is known about the beetles that Ray studies. What scientists do know is that there are an estimated 35,000 species of longhorned wood-boring beetles, and that they’re found on all continents except Antarctica. What scientists don’t know is how the different species of longhorned beetles affect individual ecosystems. That’s where Ray’s research comes into play.

“Invasive insects have huge impacts on ecosystems and land values,” says Ray, citing the Asian longhorn beetle infestation in North America as an example. First spotted in New York City in 1996, the beetle, which is native to Asia, has now spread to states as far away as Illinois and Ohio. Left unmanaged, the infestation could result in more than $650 billion in damages to forestry and landscape, according to a recent report commissioned by the USDA.

Ray’s work begins when the USDA receives a report of a foreign beetle infestation. With the report in hand, she travels to nearby offloading warehouses and sets traps using pheromones, which are chemicals beetles release to attract potential mates. She then records how the beetle populations grow, eat and reproduce in their new habitats. Scientists use her research to compile databases that help them quarantine and eradicate invasive bug populations.

According to Ray, the longhorned wood-boring beetle’s trip abroad starts when goods like auto parts, tiles and furniture are packed into fresh-cut wood crates for overseas shipping. Wood-boring beetles eat, reproduce and burrow in trees, so many of them end up hitching a ride with the wooden crates. When the beetles arrive in the states, they crawl out of their burrows and start looking for a fresh-wood meal in their new habitat.

“The truth is that we just don’t know what we’re up against,” says Ray, after returning home from a trip to Portland. “There isn’t much data that associates larvae and beetles in their adult stages. So when a warehouse worker finds a larva burrowed in a crate, we’re not sure what kind of longhorned beetle it will turn into. I collect DNA samples from the larva for barcoding purposes and identify the types of wood that are likely to house certain species of wood-boring larvae.”

The work is demanding, but for Ray, it’s not all about getting rid of pests: Her time spent outside the classroom also includes research on the conservation of endangered beetle species, like the Valley Elderberry longhorned beetle, a species native to the Central California region.

Similar to her work with pest control, Ray uses phermones to study the endangered beetle populations. And she is the proud owner of 11 pet tarantulas who also reside in a foreign habitat—her office.

Ray, who participates in the biology department’s annual Costa Rica study abroad experience, says she wishes that her students could experience field research with her more than just once a year. Hands-on research, she argues, is necessary for the development of the whole self.

“A liberal arts education makes you a better scientist, but it also makes you a better person as well,” she says. “It’s so nice to watch the students interacting with the outdoors and experiencing the world. They just blossom and turn into different people out there.”