Howard Whiteman
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Howard H. Whiteman

General Teaching Interests and Philosophy

My teaching interests are primarily in the fields of ecology and conservation biology. Understanding ecological principles is crucial for a variety of scientific questions, both esoteric and applied. My teaching goal is to provide an understanding of the biological principles that underlie the incredible complexity of natural systems. I attempt to inspire students to continue study in these topics, or at least to apply general ecological theory to their own interests in biology. For students that do not continue in biology, my goal is to broaden their knowledge of the interrelationships of organisms in nature, how these relationships evolve, and why these organisms and their habitats need preservation and careful management.

I am strongly committed to teaching students through a multidimensional approach. I use interactive lectures to clearly outline concepts and provide relevant examples from the primary literature, and mix lectures with inquiry-based approaches where appropriate. I use hands-on laboratory and field experiments to demonstrate lecture topics, and computer simulation to tackle concepts that are not feasible in the normal laboratory setting (e.g., predator-prey population dynamics). When possible, I integrate independent research projects into courses. Independent projects provide students with a relatively short-term, hands-on experience in using the scientific method, applying concepts learned in class to relevant problems, and gaining experience in scientific writing and presentation. Finally, I evaluate students rigorously, using homework assignments, scientific papers, and examinations designed to test a student's progress and to clarify the topics covered in class. I believe the combination of interesting lectures, inquiry-based classroom activities, laboratories, student projects, and rigorous testing is an ideal learning environment in which to expand a student's understanding of the world.

Undergraduate and Graduate Research

Drift fence
I am firmly committed to promoting the education of future scientists through research experience. I believe that graduate and undergraduate research is a crucial part of the scientific community's responsibility to educate students and to promote science, and I have made it a focal point of my academic career.

I have incorporated undergraduates into my research as much as possible (see publications). Since 1990, I have advised or co-advised over 30 undergraduates in independent research projects. These projects have experienced incredible success: 15 of the students have completed extensive projects which have been published (see publications; 11 total publications), four of which the students were first author, in journals such as Copeia and Canadian Journal of Zoology; three students have authored or co-authored two papers each. One student has published in a university undergraduate research journal, and several have papers in preparation. Almost all of the students have given public presentations of their research, and all of the students gained extensive experience in science and academia. Many of the students continued their studies in graduate school or are working in ecology or wildlife biology positions. Six have completed M.S. degrees, four others have completed their Ph.D., and two of these are now faculty members. Currently, three of my former undergraduates are in M.S. programs, and two are in Ph.D. programs, one of which was recently awarded an NSF Graduate Fellowship. A short, university-created video about undergraduate research at MSU featuring students from my laboratory can be seen on the lab video page.

I began advising graduate students in 1996. I have since mentored 17 graduate students, ten of whom have completed a M.S., and one a Ph.D. The other students are in progress. Of the ten, five are currently in Ph.D. programs, and the majority of the remainder are in wildlife or conservation positions. I look forward to advising more graduate students in the future, and leading them to a fulfilling and productive career.

As part of my commitment to undergraduate and graduate research, I have attempted to procure grant funds for students, including successful proposals to the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Kentucky Division of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Additionally, I have assisted my students with grant proposals to Sigma Xi, the American Museum of Natural History, the Animal Behavior Society, the American Society of Mammalogists, the Kentucky Space Grant Consortium, the Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute, MSUís Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity program, and NSF. I have also assisted with the development of successful REU site proposals to the NSF for the RMBL, and with multiple collaborative efforts at Murray incorporating undergraduate research, including our current NSF award that is shared between Biology and Mathematics (BioMaPS).

Undergraduate and graduate students Undergraduate (U) and graduate (G) students within my lab at MSUís Sigma Xi Awards Banquet, Spring 2008.

From left to right, Sarah Farmer (U), Sarah Thomason (U), myself, Kristen Landolt (G), Todd Schoborg (U), Ashley Hagan (U), and Catherine Aubee (G; formerly U). Sarah T., Kristen, Todd, and Catherine were biology students; Sarah F. and Ashley Hagan were math majors. Sarah F., Sarah T., Todd, and Ashley worked as part of the NSF BioMaPS program. Kristen is now a Ph.D. student at Trent University, Todd is a Ph.D. student at UT-Knoxville (and was recently awarded an NSF Graduate Fellowship), Sarah T. is a M.S. student at Purdue, Ashley is a computer programmer, Sarah F. is a student teacher, and Catherine is an intern at EPA. Each student conducted a research project that was presented at the Sigma Xi Poster Competition and other venues.

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