A new exhibit featuring student work at Newman Library at Virginia Tech highlights the science of cancer with a creative twist.
"The lifetime incidence of cancer is one in two for men and one in three for women living in the United States. Everybody has a cancer story and thus a deep emotional connection to this particular subject," said Jill Sible, assistant vice provost for undergraduate education and professor of biological sciences in the College of Science.
That can make teaching a course on cancer biology challenging – balancing the study of scientific causes of cancer while being mindful and reverent of those who have or are suffering from the disease.
Sible structured the spring course around the "Hallmarks of Cancer," six distinguishing features of the disease. Lectures on the topic, however, were few and far between.
"Dr. Sible encouraged students to develop ideas with each other," Stefanie Karangelen of Norfolk, Va., a senior majoring in biological sciences in the College of Science,said. "It was ‘team-style learning' and every class had an active, high-energy aura. I always looked forward to going to this class."
"I hate working in groups and as a biology major, I had never experienced a class so revolved around group work," said Emily Sdao of Fredericksburg, Va., a senior majoring in biological sciences, in a blog for the course. "As the semester went on though, cancer biology became less of a class and more of a life experience for me. I realized that I could actually be interested in what I was learning, rather than just learning it to get a good grade on an exam. ... I found out about the importance of cooperating well with others and working as a team for the betterment of other team members, employees and clientele, not just myself."
As a final assignment, groups completed creative projects to demonstrate the Hallmarks of Cancer. Now, they will be shared with the university community in an exhibit on the second floor commons of Newman Library from Oct. 21 through Nov. 11. An opening will be held tonight, Oct. 21, at 7 p.m. Students will talk about their projects and refreshments – featuring cancer-fighting foods – will be on hand.
"This exhibit typifies what undergraduate students are capable of achieving when they are placed in the driver's seat for their educational experiences," Sible said. "The assignment was simple: demonstrate deep understanding of and add value to the Hallmarks of Cancer through a public body of work. The results are amazing."
The exhibit includes "Art of Cancer" paintings, a cookbook featuring cancer-fighting foods, a dining plan guide to eating antioxidant-rich foods on Virginia Tech's campus, a cartoon video explaining cancer to children, a children's book on cancer, a box with items to comfort a child fighting cancer, a website called "Cancer Gone Wild" with interesting information about links between animals and cancer, and a poster featuring original research.
Prince Dwamena of Lorton, Va., a senior majoring in biological sciences, worked in the group that created a cartoon video explaining cancer to children. "As a group, we thought that most of the time adults tend to just tell children cancer is a disease that kills people, but we fail to truly explain how cancer develops and how it metastasizes to different parts of the body." The video is an analogy that uses a cloning witch to demonstrate how cancer mutates and spreads in the body.
Karangelen's group worked on the original research. "Our project is trying to disprove the widely-believed idea that a gain of an oncogene and/or loss of a tumor suppressor gene leads directly to the development of cancer," Karangelen said. "Because of the cancer biology course, I am in the process of being published in a scientific journal. How exciting is that! Overall, it was one of my favorite classes that I have taken during my four years here at Virginia Tech."
The Hallmarks of Cancer exhibit will mark the second showcase of student projects featured in Newman Library this semester. "We're excited to partner with Dr. Sible and with this course. It's a very powerful exhibit and we're thrilled to host it in Newman Library," said Brian Mathews, associate dean for Learning and Outreach at University Libraries.
"These endeavors signify a new direction for the University Libraries as we're looking to showcase interdisciplinary and collaborative learning projects."
Earlier this month, the University Libraries hosted a Variations of Practice exhibit featuring work from students in a "religion in American life" course. With new technology and collaborative spaces for students, the libraries are poised to feature innovative projects and facilitate new forms of learning. "We want to curate knowledge-building experiences and make them tangible and shareable," said Mathews. "Virginia Tech is bustling with scholarly energy and we want to amplify from within the libraries."