James Hewlett, of Webster, professor of biology at Finger Lakes Community College, recently was recognized by the State University of New York for his work in promoting undergraduate research and biotechnology education.
Hewlett was named a SUNY Distinguished Service Professor, an award conferred upon those who provided exemplary service in the advancement and development of a discipline.
Hewlett founded the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative at FLCC in 2006 as a pilot to teach scientific principles and skills through research, instead of lab exercises.
The National Science Foundation has supported CCURI with $7 million in grants and the organization is the nation’s leading provider of research experiences to community college students. It reaches a network of 42 schools, giving more than 6,000 students each year the opportunity to engage with the scientific method.
“Many of these students simply would not have access to research opportunities without the support of CCURI and the National Science Foundation,” Hewlett said. “I have great memories of students who I have never met breaking down with tears of joy and gratitude at our CCURI-sponsored student research conferences.
“Those encounters are great reminders of how underserved many of our nation’s community colleges actually are and how important the work of CCURI has been in addressing this inequality over the past 14 years.”
FLCC student Abigail Giddings, of Walworth, took part in research for the first time in spring 2019. She learned how to extract DNA from northeastern U.S. freshwater sponges to contribute to a database showing where each was found.
“The project made everything I had learned about biology come to life,” she said.
Giddings also likes knowing that other scientists could study climate change or pollution by looking for patterns in sponge distribution she helped develop.
“FLCC is all the better for the superlative work Professor Hewlett has done with the National Science Foundation,” FLCC President Robert Nye said. “His commitment to high-quality research for community college students has opened doors for students at FLCC and across the country.”
In addition to CCURI, Hewlett worked on projects to advance biomanufacturing education and workforce development. This includes the Bioman — short for biomanufacturing — summer programs FLCC has hosted for high schoolers in recent years.
Through all of his projects, Hewlett has been the primary applicant on $23 million in successful grant applications. He authored or co-authored four academic books, as well as more than two dozen peer-reviewed abstracts, articles and journal publications, much of it sharing his strategies for improving teaching and learning. In March, the NSF awarded $49,000 to FLCC to create a how-to guide for community colleges interested in launching undergraduate research.
“One of our biggest challenges, which I think has also become one of our greatest points of pride, has been getting the higher education community to recognize community colleges as equal partners in delivering research opportunities to undergraduates,” Hewlett said. “In the early years of CCURI, we often faced pushback from that community regarding the role of community colleges in educating STEM undergraduates. I feel like we have made great strides toward gaining acceptance and now feel that the reputation of CCURI is widely known and valued at all levels of higher education.”
In his writing and speaking engagements, Hewlett focuses on the successes and challenges of preparing the next generation of scientists and shares his own experience using research to teach, for example, in travel courses to study volcanic activity on Caribbean reefs.
Hewlett also received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in teaching and in scholarship and creative activities.
The rank of SUNY Distinguished Professor was created in 1963, with the first faculty member promoted to the rank in 1964. Since then, 1,184 faculty have been honored in one of four categories: distinguished professorship, distinguished teaching professorship, distinguished service professorship and distinguished librarian.