Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Thomas Schmidt is being honored with one of the 12th annual Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prizes. Schmidt is also professor of internal medicine, and of microbiology and immunology, Medical School.

Five faculty projects that involve innovative approaches to improving student learning were selected. Every year, the Provost's Teaching Innovation Prize is awarded to a small number of University of Michigan faculty who have developed and implemented significant new approaches to teaching that have improved student learning.  As reported in the University Record (April 30, 2020), Schmidt is being recognized for the innovative microbiome lab class he developed, one of the Authentic Research Connection versions of Biology 173, which is described below:

Thomas Schmidt

Trust your gut: retaining STEM students through authentic research

With funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Schmidt developed a research-centric introductory biology lab course that gives students the chance to engage in authentic research about the composition and function of gut microbiomes and the key roles they play in human health and major chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and asthma.

Over the past five years, increasing numbers of students have lined up to participate in the popular course. Most have also consented for their results to be used in research.  

Acting as both the investigators and subjects of study, students generate data about their microbiomes each semester. Applying skills learned in the course, they develop and test hypotheses about their microbiomes, culminating in final projects where they present their findings and sparking ideas that may be pursued in Schmidt’s lab’s research and in subsequent semesters.

In addition to exploring their own microbiomes, students are motivated by the knowledge that the data generated from their samples is used to develop microbiome-focused therapies for clinical studies. For example, three different research projects in the Medical School with implications for weight maintenance, bone marrow transplants and the use of atypical antipsychotics have been informed by student results. 

In a nominating letter of support, Diarmaid Ó Foighil, chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, called Schmidt’s class “groundbreaking.” 

“The entire microbiome course from beginning to end is an innovation — one that engages students directly in tangible research that they feel ownership of and that is meaningfully linked to the scientific literature and to clinical studies at the U-M hospital,” Ó Foighil wrote. “Please join me in congratulating Tom and his teaching team!”

The Provost’s Teaching Innovative Prize is sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching and the University Library.

Read more in previous news from LSA, Trust your gut and from The Michigan Daily, In intro biology lab, students become research subjects