“I think it is important for students to understand that their ability to stick with tasks, goals, and passions is crucial for success. Perseverance demands effort and practice, which is the truest way to unlock our highest potential.”
Dr. Ayisha Sookdeo joined Guttman College in 2019. She came to Guttman because she was excited to get the opportunity to teach students in a college that truly emphasizes the importance of dedicated and compassionate instruction.
Dr. Sookdeo’s research background is in yeast genetics. More specifically, Dr. Sookdeo has investigated the role that an evolutionarily conserved nuclear pore protein, Nup211, has on gene expression, cell shape, and actin dynamics. “I created genetic mutations within fission yeast cells that expressed differing levels of nup211 to determine its essential function,” says Dr. Sookdeo. “Nup211 is an essential gene, which means nup211 is needed for cell survival. If nup211 is completely deleted from the cell, the cell dies. This protein is specifically localized at the nuclear rim. Previous studies linked nup211 to be involved in mRNA export. My studies confirmed these findings and focused on the link between nup211 and gene expression. Ultimately, my research confirmed that nup211 is crucial for the vitality of the cell.”
At Guttman, Dr. Sookdeo teaches General Biology I, General Biology II, Genetics, Human Biology Lecture, and City STEMinar (City Seminar II). She describes her teaching style as multi-dimensional. “I incorporate lecture presentations that provide my students with information that allow them to be introduced to a particular topic. I ask my students many questions to engage them in the scientific process. Students are encouraged to ask as many questions as they like. Every question in my class is worth asking—there are no imprudent questions. Because I encourage questions, some classes become discussion panels that deepen students’ understanding of everyday life. I also have my students work in groups to elicit collaboration and fellowship.” Dr. Sookdeo stresses the importance of group work in her class because, in part, science is collaborative. “I have assigned students to work together in order to research topics that are relevant to present-day issues, issues such as: organismal extinction due to human influences, the positive and negative outcome of cloning, artificial insemination, and the advantages versus the disadvantages of human genetic engineering.” Dr. Sookdeo encourages her students to approach these topics for the sake of understanding the science and recognizing how this science influences lives on a larger scale.
Dr. Sookdeo is most proud of working one-on-one with undergraduate students in a research lab. “Students get the opportunity to learn science in a realistic and engaging way and their interest for science grows,” says Dr. Sookdeo. One project that Dr. Sookdeo organized with her students involved growing a kidney bean plant. “I wanted my students to understand, first, that the kidney bean is actually a seed that can grow into a plant. Many of my students did not know that a kidney bean grows into plant; they were surprised to know that the seed is essentially an embryo.” Dr. Sookdeo instructed her students to treat the soil with different household items that alter the soil nitrogen and magnesium levels in order to determine what factors negatively and positively influence the growth of the plant. Students went so far as to test salt and sugar treatments to the soil. One aim of this project was for Dr. Sookdeo’s students to get a deeper understanding of the food we eat and what it takes for that food to grow.
Relatedly, a current project that Dr. Sookdeo is working on with her students tests the spoilage rates of fruits and vegetables that are grown conventionally against those that are grown organically. Students compare and contrast the spoilage rates of foods to determine whether organic foods spoil quicker than conventionally grown foods.
Dr. Sookdeo is also presently working on mechanisms that promote equitable teaching as well as lasting, transferrable understandings in biology. She is interested in determining: 1) How might an instructor prompt a student to be motivated and develop strategies for learning? 2) How might an instructor create a transformative, equitable learning experience that leans toward inclusive, evidence-based practices? 3) How might an instructor nurture students’ growth for the sake of understanding the nature of science as it is applicable to everyday life and, in the process, learning skills to solve problems creatively?
When I asked Dr. Sookdeo what trait she would most like to pass on to her students at Guttman, she said perseverance. “I think it is important for students to understand that their ability to stick with tasks, goals, and passions is crucial for success. Perseverance demands effort and practice, which is the truest way to unlock our highest potential.”