As an associate professor of biology and director of Davidson’s James G. Martin Genomics Program, Campbell has created a model research laboratory. His undergraduate students get his personal academic guidance, ample resources, and hands-on experience with the best equipment. They’re involved with cutting-edge science, working now on a synthetic biology project to create a rudimentary computer from DNA and E. coli.
For many years, he has found creative means to help students worldwide learn this rapidly developing field that could produce revolutionary improvements in medical care and food production. “We have everything we need at Davidson to do genomics successfully,” he said. “So why not share our tools and help others?”
His outreach efforts have recently been recognized by two professional organizations with their top awards for leadership in teaching.
The American Society of Cell Biologists (ASCB) presented Campbell with its Bruce Alberts Award for Excellence in Science Education at the organization’s annual meeting in San Diego in early December. In its announcement, ASCB noted, “Campbell has been a leader in bringing genomics to the undergraduate curriculum.” Campbell and the other winner of the award this year, Sarah Elgin of Washington University in St. Louis, were the founding coeditors of the society’s journal, CBE: Life Sciences Education from 2002–2005.
Another of Campbell’s efforts, a multimedia presentation entitled “MicroArrays MediaBook,” has received the international Pirelli Award as the “Best Work for Educational Institutions.” Created with collaborators at UNC Chapel Hill, the Web-based MicroArrays MediaBook shows students how microarrays are created and analyzed, and applications of the technology. Its graphic sophistication commands attention, and students can test their understanding of the material with questions for each section.
As winner of the Alberts Award, Campbell received the honor of addressing ASCB members at its 2006 meeting, and took the opportunity to review his involvement in genomics teaching. Each year, the meeting hosts about 10,000 biologists from all over the world.
In 2001, Campbell and Laurie Heyer, his faculty colleague in the Davidson mathematics department, published the first-ever undergraduate genomics textbook, Discovering Genomics, Proteomics, and Bioinformatics. Now in its second edition, the book makes genomics relevant for students through a case-based approach that mimics the way professional researchers work.
Each section title poses broad questions such as: “Where did humans evolve?” “Can we invent new types of medication using genomic information?” “Are genetically modified organisms bad?” “Can we understand cancer better by understanding its circuitry?” and “Why can’t I just take a pill to lose weight?” “I’m very driven to share resources and help people learn,” he explained. “It’s just an internal drive. I realized during my first year in college that I wanted to be a teacher. Making the right resources available to people can be a determining factor in whether they get involved in genomics or not.”
He takes understandable pride in the achievements of his former students. They include an instructor at Harvard who is developing a new cell biology curriculum there, three students in graduate school at Johns Hopkins University, a medical student at the University of Pittsburgh who hopes to work on new cancer treatments, a Princeton Ph.D. in virology, and many more.
Campbell is convinced genomics is changing the world, and therefore should concern everyone. “Even if a college graduate doesn’t go into science, he or she will some day be a patient, or have a sick child,” he said. “Knowing genomics will help in understanding diagnoses and treatments, and why science education is an integral component of the liberal arts.
“Knowledge is power,” he said, “and I love empowering people.”