Alan Giese, Ph.D.
“I absolutely, firmly believe and am dedicated to: You can’t learn science without doing science.”
Ticks. Gross. What do those make you think of? The creepy-crawly nuisances that we now associate with Lyme Disease have opened up a new avenue of research and exploration for Lyndon State College students and their professor.
The tick population and the incidence of Lyme disease are growing at alarming rates. “It’s a topic that is begging for someone to look at.” That someone is Dr. Alan Giese, professor of natural science. He and his students at Lyndon are in their fourth year of studying tick-borne pathogens with funding by the Vermont Department of Health.
“As an ecologist, it’s a fascinating question: ‘Why are tick populations expanding the way they are?’ Ecology is the study of distribution—Where are things living and in what abundance? How many are there, and in this particular case, why is it so dynamic? Why is it changing so rapidly?”
The project started in 2011, and Giese and his students monitor 12 sites scattered across the Green Mountain State four times a year. All of the ticks collected are tested for three human pathogens, and students are directly involved in all facets of the research. “It’s great for student projects because with ticks and Lyme disease, I can have students working in the field if they love to be outdoors, if they like to be in the lab they can be grinding up ticks and working with the DNA, or if they like to be on computers they can be doing the analysis of the sequence data.”
Like all good research, this project has spurned a collaboration with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “I contacted them because I wanted coastal ticks to compare to northern ticks, and I thought they might be able to guide me to a place to check ticks. What they said was ‘Hey, not only do we have sight, but we have a project we’d like to do so let’s work together.” Lyndon students have traveled to Amherst to assist with the individual pathogen testing, and more are expected to make the trip in the near future.
Taking on a statewide project of the department of health, as well as teaching at the college sound like more than enough to fill one’s workload. For Giese, it’s just a component of what he does for science in Vermont. Giese is the director of the Vermont Science Institute (VSI), and has been for four years. With grant funding, the VSI is currently working towards getting all teachers up to speed on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), the newest national science standards adopted by nearly 40 states including Vermont. “I absolutely, firmly believe and am dedicated to: You can’t learn science without doing science,” said Giese, “I find that employers say this; you’re science graduates know a lot, but they can’t do anything. They can open books and they know facts, but they can’t practice science. That is one of the huge conceptual shifts in the next generation science standards, that instead of teaching science content, kids are doing science.”
Giese taught one class during the spring semester, to allow time for the research and VSI projects. “At some point, I’ll have to say no, because I don’t have enough hours in the day to do everything. But how could I say no to being involved in the cutting edge of what’s happening with science in this state?”