Take Two with Mike Costa

Posted on February 13, 2012 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

Extremophiles under the microscope
Photo courtesy Kolopres, Creative Commons license
Extremophiles under the microscope

By Mike Costa

Returning to USM after having left many years ago has been an enlightening experience; a chance to resume educational pursuits and create prospects through networking. Most of all, I find myself in awe of the power and potential of interactions between students and their professors.

USM is no stranger to the non-traditional student; the average student age here is 28 years old.  The sense of community and sharing of diverse life experiences is, as you might imagine from that statistic, quite pronounced.

And I’ve never been more aware of this than on one day last October.  One of my English professors asked if we could tour the science labs when the small group of USM administrators was to survey the area and discuss current research agendas with the science faculty. The intent was to profile the activities for outlining the functions of USM’s science departments; the group of about a half-dozen university brass included Associate VP Academic Affairs Samantha Langley-Turnbaugh, and USM President Selma Botman.

Having absolutely no idea of what was in store, I would soon discover a whole other world in the Science Building on the Portland campus, a true Magical Mystery Tour.

The array of conversations touched on things like the investigation of contaminants using an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, or evolutionary adaptations to stress, and how those adaptations can be linked to astrobiology and disease. Post-grad and undergrad students were involved in these lab discussions as well, citing their roles and efforts in the lab’s procedures, and you could see they were very much enthused.

A demonstration of the power of an electron microscope in one of the labs was great. The professor demonstrated the various degrees of magnification potential of a deer tick. From a naked-eye assessment of the minuscule creature to the enlarged detail, which made the it look like something out of a monster movie, the stark features were amazing to see.

Of course, there were the small robots on sight and extremophiles, which are organisms that can thrive in physically or geochemically extreme conditions that would be detrimental to most life on earth.

It was also humorous to walk down one of the corridors and see the Darth Vader and Bob Marley posters too, conveying a good sense of personality. The clarity and ease of the conversations between all were sharp and informative.

The spirit of learning and having constructive professor-student interactions is really vital.  The demonstration of mutual professor-student concern that I see featured on campus is energizing. That ability to see and feel, and send and receive is ageless, and its been genuinely inspirational for me to witness these constructive collaborations at USM as I embark on “Take Two.”

Mike Costa is a media studies major. Take Two will be his regular feature exploring the nontraditional student experience.