Every student can learn, maintains Dr. Bill Bromer. “My job is to provide the ways because I can’t learn them anything!” laughs Bromer, who admits he often makes students uncomfortable because he expects them to invest in their learning and not just be passive recipients of information.
Learning, according to Bromer, is collaboration. “I rarely ask a question and expect an individual to answer. I tell students to talk among themselves so that everybody has a chance to help formulate the answer.”
“This is what happens most often in the real world: collaboration, feedback—adjust, revise, edit,” he adds..
Bromer is a professor of biology and environmental science at the University of St. Francis. He holds a Ph.D. from Purdue University. For the 2008-09 academic year, Bromer will serve as interim dean for the College of Arts and Science.
“I realized in grad school that the fun in biology is doing the research. Why can’t you do fun research in biology as an undergrad, too?” Bromer has answered this question by being a leader in engaging his undergraduate students in research. And, you don’t have to be a science major to participate.
Summer fun has meant collecting more then 1,000 crayfish from 30 area streams to test whether the presence of the invasive, non-native rusty crayfish is affecting the diversity of other native species. The data collected by Bromer and his student was shared for further analysis with a crayfish expert at the Illinois Natural History Survey at the University of Illinois.
Summer research fun in 2008 for Bromer and students includes studying the water quality at some of the highest rated creeks in the area—Jackson Prairie Creek, Spring Creek and Hickory Creek—to determine how land use and development impacts the creeks. The Will County Forest Preserve and Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie will use the data collected.
Often seen at Midewin, Bromer plus students have collected data on plants and pollinators and seed dispersal, as well as collected insect larvae in streams to determine pollution level. “Students are always amazed at what they find,” said Bromer.
Out in the field with 85- to 95-degree days with 90 percent humidity. It’s all part of the research process, the part that engages students and hooks them on the natural sciences, according to Bromer, himself a staunch environmentalist. His next project is the Homer Glen Watershed Plan, to create a website, “a one-stop manual for streams” that will assemble data collected by state and county agencies and educational institutions.
Bromer wants to teach a Science of Fly Fishing class, a combination of physics (the fly rod affected by water movement), chemistry (water content that supports the fish) and biology (what are the fish eating?). It’s not just that he loves fly fishing. (He’ll fly fish just about anywhere he can from the Kankakee and DuPage rivers to the Florida flats and Everglades.) He wants to show the relevance of the natural sciences to everyday life without his students worrying about taking a “science class.”
He’s sneaky like that. Don’t tell anyone, but his Plants and Civilization class is a “disguised botany class for non-science majors. It’s about how humans have used plants and how plants have affected human societies,” Bromer explained. Another don’t tell is that they make beer in class. “The students get a kick out it. And they learn—about how yeast works, about fermentation. What are all those funny smells and what are all those chemicals in beer? Where does malt come from?”
“I don’t think the average person on the street knows enough about science,” said Bromer, who also worries that educators don’t either. To remedy that, Bromer has piloted a summer program to teach elementary and middle school teachers to teach science. The program is supported by an Associated Colleges of Illinois grant.
“I wasn’t an honors student as an undergrad. I know where the average B and C student is coming from. I feel like many of the students who get As will get As no matter what I do. I try to motivate or model for the next level because I know they can do better and more,” said Bromer.
“When I see people start to figure out things—not the light bulb—but when they have the skills—the teach-to-fish principle—to learn and provide for themselves, that’s why I teach. Teaching is to empower other people and learning is to empower oneself.”
Dr. William Bromer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org