Undergraduate Biochemistry Through Public Health Issues

Dr. Matt Fisher, Associate Professor, Chemistry, St. Vincent College

This model consists of the two semester biochemistry sequence for science majors, which serves to prepare students to go on to health profession or graduate programs. Public health issues are used as the civic/social problem through which I teach the canonical biochemical concepts that are found in almost all upper level undergraduate biochemistry courses. In addition to standard summative assessments that require students to explain and use biochemical concepts (sometimes in novel situations or in the context of data from the research literature), the course is designed to provide students with opportunities to engage in integrative learning. These opportunities come through readings and reflective writing focused on the public health issues as well as a public health project completed by small groups of students where they present both biochemical and non-biochemical aspects of an issue chosen by the students themselves.

My goals as the course instructor are:
1. to help student develop an understanding of basic biochemical concepts and the ability to use those concepts to analyze situations and explain observations.
2. to create a learning environment that provides students with opportunities to integrate their learning in this course with what they have learned in other courses in the sciences and courses taken for general education purposes
3. to embed opportunities for moral and civic learning within a course that is part of the major (required or recommended) for students studying biology, biochemistry, and chemistry.

In some ways my goals as an instructor are tied to the following quote from the acceptance speech given by James Orbinski, then President of Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) when the organization was presented the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. In that speech, Orbinski stated "Silence has long been confused with neutrality, and has been presented as a necessary condition for humanitarian action...We are not sure that words can always save lives, but we know that silence can certainly kill." This course is an attempt to begin breaking the silence in the context of a science majors curriculum.

Student Learning Objectives:

CH 251 - Proteins and Metabolism

By the completion of the course each student will be able:
1. to analyze various cellular processes in terms of molecular interactions, thermodynamics, and/or kinetics
2. to interpret experimental results in molecular terms based on biochemical concepts in protein chemistry and metabolism
3. to integrate these concepts in a manner such that a student can translate appropriate biological observations into chemical terms.

CH 252 - Nucleic Acids and Membranes

By the completion of the course each student will be able:
1. to analyze various cellular processes in terms of molecular interactions, thermodynamics, and/or kinetics
2. to interpret experimental results in molecular terms using concepts in membrane biochemistry, signal transduction, and nucleic acid biochemistry
3. to integrate concepts from the course with material from other science courses so that a student can translate appropriate biological observations into chemical/molecular terms.
4. to make connections among the information, ideas, and perspectives in this course and those in other courses or areas outside the natural sciences.

For both courses, I hope that students will leave:
4. understanding more about the role biochemistry can play in public health and improving human life
5. seeing yourself as an advocate for using biochemical knowledge to improve the quality of life of all people
6. excited about the continually changing nature of biochemistry and interested in continuing your own learning in this area.


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