Mr. Mark Klee, an Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) alumnus, and Dr. Stuart Tobin, a dermatologist at the VA Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky, were each presented the EKU College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (College of STEM) Award during ceremonies on Sept. 11, 2023. The college’s highest honor is presented to individuals who have made impactful contributions to the college.
The awards were presented to Mr. Klee and Dr. Tobin in conjunction with the 2023 Annual College of STEM Alumni Lecture series, for which the former was the speaker.
The College of STEM Award and the Alumni Lecture Series “were established to enhance our engagement with alumni and to provide a platform for the college’s graduates to motivate and inspire current students to strive for their highest potential,” said Dr. Tom Otieno, dean of the College of STEM.
Mr. Klee graduated from EKU with a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology in 1990. He joined Toyota Kentucky in 1994 as a specialist in assembly production engineering at its Georgetown, Kentucky, plant. He has worked in many aspects of engineering across multiple roles, including assembly, powertrain, and maintenance. Mr. Klee has also worked in other business functions, including planning and profitability management.
Currently, Mr. Klee serves as the head of powertrain at Toyota Kentucky, responsible for leading daily plant operations for the machining and assembly of engines and axles for many Toyota vehicles including, Camry, Highlander, RAV4, Lexus ES, Tacoma, and the Grand Highlander.
In his presentation titled Transforming Your Career, Mr. Klee shared with students his insights on why possessing a problem-solver mindset and a commitment to continuous improvement is critical to success in their career. He also offered the following advice, “In the pursuit of continuous improvement of ourselves we progress through the learning cycle of change: (1) Unconscious Incompetence, (2) Conscious Incompetence, (3) Conscious Competence, (4) Unconscious Competence. We should be aware of the emotional effect. We need to recognize, appreciate, and persevere through the feeling of frustration that often accompanies true learning and mastery of a skill or subject so that we can reap the reward of development of ourselves and our teams.”
Dr. Stuart Tobin is a dermatologist at the VA Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky. He grew up in Mt. Vernon, New York, received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1967, his medical degree from the University of Missouri in 1971 and completed his residency dermatology training at New York University at the Skin and Cancer Center where he was chief resident.
In 1977 he opened a private practice of dermatology in Richmond, Kentucky, where he practiced medicine until 2010. He served as the Chief of Dermatology at the Albert B. Chandler UK Medical Center and Associate Professor of Surgery and Ullin Leavell Professor of Dermatology (2010-2020).
Dr. Tobin is a strong supporter of the College of STEM through philanthropy and service and currently serves on the College’s Dean’s Development Cabinet.
In accepting his award, Dr. Tobin compared the College of STEM to a key that opens doors for students through its programs. He told the students that it is up to them to take advantage of the opportunities afforded them by these programs. He said, “The College of STEM is a key to your success and symbolizes academic fulfillment. Why a key to signify academic achievement? Because a key opens doors, it unlocks the portal for achievement and gives you the opportunity to cross that threshold to develop yourself to the highest scholastic attainment.”
Get more information about EKU’s College of STEM.
On the first floor of the North Wing of the Science Building resides the Herpetology Museum, which is one component of the EKU natural history collections that form the Branley A. Branson Museum of Zoology and Ronald L. Jones Herbarium. The Herpetology Museum includes both dry and fluid-preserved specimens, skeletal displays, snakeskin preservations, a photographic voucher collection, as well as dissection tools and microscopy equipment for the identification and research of biological specimens.
While the Herpetology Museum’s collection contains specimens from around the world, local species dominate the separate teaching and research collections, with more than 90 percent of specimens being collected from Kentucky and adjacent states starting in 1938.
The research collection includes those specimens for which collection data is available (where, when, by whom), and such data is made available to researchers worldwide through the Consortium for Small Vertebrate Collections web portal (https://csvcoll.org/portal/). In addition, biologists may request physical loans directly from the collection for use in their research.
The teaching collection includes those specimens for which collection data is unavailable, and these specimens are used each spring in the herpetology courses taken primarily by biology and wildlife management majors (with additional representation from animal studies, biomedical sciences, and other programs).
In 2021 the photographic voucher collection was added to the museum and provides a venue for researchers to to collect biological data without physically collecting the animals. These photos frequently document species’ presence in previously undocumented locations and are often required to publish small natural history notes of new distributional records.
“At a time when many smaller, and even some larger, colleges and universities are divesting from biological collections, EKU has leveraged our Science Building, the largest single science facility in Kentucky, to serve as a repository for collections donated by other institutions,” notes Museum Curator Dr. Cy Mott, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. “When I began to assume curatorial duties in the collection, EKU was in the process of taking on the herpetological collections of Morehead State University, and most of my efforts to date have involved incorporating those specimens into our teaching and research collections.”
Since becoming curator, Dr. Mott has overseen the collection’s growth from approximately 1,800 to more than 7,000 specimens. “This rapid rate of progress has only been possible due to support at University, College, and Department levels, as graduate students in our M.S. Biology program are actively employed in the collection as part of their graduate service assignments. As opportunities to work in biological collections become scarcer in higher education, “buy-in” of the importance of such collections by EKU administration has our students gaining desirable curatorial skills that lead to employment in scientific research positions at local, state, and federal levels,” said Dr. Mott, noting that his own graduate students have in some cases earned employment largely based on their collections work performed at EKU.
As the work to incorporate specimens from other universities has progressed, the accumulation of specimens with no useful collection data has provided an additional benefit for the biological community through the creation of a permanent loan collections disbursed to other colleges and universities.
“At a certain point we have more specimens of some species than we really need, and it would be more helpful to get those specimens out in good condition for students at other colleges and universities to use in their classes,” Dr. Mott noted.
In the past two years permanent loan collections have been created for Kentucky Wesleyan College and Asbury University, providing students at these institutions hands-on learning opportunities in courses like Ecology, Vertebrate Zoology, and Aquatic and Wetland Biology.
In terms of new activities going forward, Dr. Mott’s goals are clear: “Increasing community outreach…we’ve just started the first series of Museum tours since the collection’s migration to our current facility, and I want to continue this as a regular component of all our biological collections. Down the line I also think it will be important to digitize all our collections and release specimen photos to biologists around the world for their use in research. The current biodiversity crisis will only increase the need for high quality museum data in planning future conservation strategies.”
Get more information about EKU’s Biology Graduate Programs.
Internships allow students to apply what they have learned in the classroom in practical settings. Student internships have played an important role in the forensic science program at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) since the program’s inception in 1974.
“Internships provide students with an opportunity to gain invaluable experience, often providing them with additional knowledge in their field, showcasing what life could be like post-graduation. Students improve their interpersonal skills and develop a network of professional contacts that could provide them with letters of recommendation or employment opportunity,” said Dr. Jamie Fredericks, director of the forensic science program.
The forensic science program supports students searching for an internship in a number of ways. The Training for Forensic Internships course (FOR 310) provides students guidance in preparing for an internship and explains the forensic internship application process. The students also get access to a portal which provides them with links to internships that are open for applications.
Over the years, EKU forensic science students have found internships all over the country. In recent years, the forensic science program has seen student placements in local regional laboratories including with the Kentucky State Police (KSP), and the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office and Crime Laboratory (Hamilton, Ohio). Other students have found more ‘exotic’ placements with internships at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Food and Drug Administration/ Forensic Chemistry Center (FDA/FCC) to name but a few.
“Students return to EKU with enthusiasm and excitement about their chosen career, often talking about using new state-of-the-art instrumentation, gaining hands-on experiences during mock cases, and analyzing case work data to improve efficiency in their laboratory processes,“ said Dr. Fredericks.
Internships can have a profound effect on the career trajectory of students. According to Dr. Fredericks, “96 % of our students surveyed have found that their internship has been helpful when thinking about their future careers.”
Mr. Bradlee Rich, who undertook his internship in Washington D.C. at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) headquarters during the summer of 2023, had this to say, “Using a variety of analytical techniques I was able to determine the composition of blended textiles in seconds at relatively large stand-off distance. This was honestly hand-in-hand with what I was doing in class, and I became very familiar with the software used to run most lab grade FT-IR. Because of this, I went to class prepared and knowledgeable of all the capabilities FT-IR had to offer and taught my peers some of these ‘hidden’ features. Career wise, I learned while I was there that research is tedious and takes time, however it was really rewarding to be a part of the next level advancements.”
Internships can have other long-lasting influences. Ms. Jill Snyder, a senior forensic science major who spent several months at the Indiana State Police Laboratory, has now been invited to the American Academy of Forensic Science to present her analysis of data that could influence the laboratory’s ‘touch’ DNA protocols. “During my internship, I witnessed laboratory processes and expert witness testimony of DNA analysts. Part of my work involved observing DNA profiles to determine if there was a full match between known and unknown individuals. I found this fascinating as it related to information learned in my DNA Profiling class,” Ms. Synder said.
Dr. Robert (Bob) Fraas, a retired EKU professor and founding director of the Forensic Science program, continues to advocate for student internships in forensic laboratories as part of the program at EKU. “An internship with a crime laboratory complements the curriculum for the student and provides the laboratory an opportunity to evaluate a potential employee,” Dr. Fraas said.
Recently, Dr. Fraas generously established a scholarship to provide financial aid to students who have been accepted into an internship program. Current students Mses. Alyssa Conley, Ryann Stricker, and Jill Snyder were the inaugural recipients of this award. When asked about how the award would help Ms. Stricker said, “The award will allow me to focus on my internship.”
Get more information about EKU’s Forensic Science Program.
Dr. Sherry Harrel: Interim Associate Dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics
Dr. Sherry Harrel was born and raised in Monroe, Louisiana. She grew up with two brothers, one of whom is her twin. She attended and graduated from Ouachita Parish High School and then enrolled at University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM) in her hometown. She earned both her Bachelors and Master of Science in Biology there and later earned her Ph.D. in Wildlife and Fisheries Science in the College of Forestry at Mississippi State University.
Dr. Harrel started college as a nursing major but, as a junior, had reservations about this career path. One day, she went out to seine (catch with a net) small fish in a Louisiana stream with her husband who was a biology major at the time. “While I was always an outdoors enthusiast and I had fished with my family on the weekends all my life, this was the first time I witnessed the beauty of a small species of fish, called the Creole Darter, which was quite fitting for this little colorful Louisiana fish, with brilliant red and blue colors. This was a turning point in my career planning, and I began to pursue aquatic biology with a focus on fishes (ichthyology),” she explained, when asked what had inspired her to major in biology.
The position of Assistant Professor of Ichthyology and Curator of Fishes in the Branley A. Branson Museum of Zoology in the Department of Biological Sciences at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU), into which Dr. Harrel was hired in 2000 was attractive to her for several reasons as she explains, “This position was very similar to the position my Master’s advisor, Dr. Neil Douglas, had at ULM, and was a perfect fit for me. I also knew that I wanted to teach in an environment where I could have a low student to faculty ratio and where undergraduate and graduate students could work with me in my research. Also, Kentucky stands third in the nation in freshwater fish diversity, with over 250 species.”
In her 23 years at EKU, Dr. Harrel has taught hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students. She believes that how students learn and what their expectations are in their classroom experience have changed since she first began at EKU, thus, she has constantly looked for ways to enhance and improve her teaching pedagogies. Also, a huge change for the College of STEM has been the move to the Science Building in 2012 (Phase I) and 2017 (Phase II), and thus, Dr. Harrel feels that faculty and students have classrooms and laboratories that are more conducive to the learning environment.
Dr. Harrel has a vested interest in student success and is passionate about helping them realize their potential and become productive professionals in their field. She has secured several extramural grants and advised and successfully graduated 21 students in the Master of Science in Biology program, 12 of whom were fully funded by external grants and the other 9 through graduate assistantships with the EKU Graduate School.
When asked about what her greatest job satisfaction or achievement was, Dr. Harrel replied, “Serving as a mentor to students and helping them learn and realize their potential has given me great satisfaction. I taught students in classes from introductory through senior/graduate level, and I always let them know that I believe in them. Students in my field courses were given hands-on experiences and their interest, engagement, smiles, and laughter were priceless. And, I have a feeling of accomplishment when I hear from students about how their undergraduate/graduate preparation contributed to their career success.”
Dr. Harrel and her husband have three daughters, the oldest being an alumna of the EKU B.S. in nursing program, the second is a sophomore majoring in Biology at EKU. Their youngest daughter is a Junior at Madison Central High School and like her sisters, plans to attend EKU when she graduates from high school. They live on a small farm in Richmond where they grow blueberries to sell, grow and process vegetables from an annual garden, and raise chickens for egg production. Dr. Harrel enjoys spending time with her family, whether on their farm, enjoying nature through hiking, or cooking Cajun dishes such as jambalaya, gumbo, and etouffee. She and her husband have spent countless hours walking on golf courses and supporting each of their daughters as they played varsity golf for their high schools.
Dr. Harrel served as Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences until December 1, 2023 where she found she was still able to make a difference in students’ lives even outside of the classroom. She helped students make decisions that positively impacted their career paths. She also advocated for the faculty in the department and provided guidance, understanding, and compassion.
Beginning on January 2, 2024, Dr. Harrel assumed the position of Interim Associate Dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Reflecting on this transition to college-level administration, Dr. Harell said, “This position gives me the opportunity to provide an important service to students and faculty throughout the College of STEM. I Look forward to making a positive impact in my new role.”
Mr. Blake Groce is 20 years old and from Richmond, Kentucky. He went to Madison Central High School and attended vocational school at Madison County Kentucky Technology Center. He is a machinist and works in the Whalin building as a student technician where he maintains and repairs machine tools as well as working on lathes and other odd jobs.
Mr. Groce decided to attend Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) due to the university offering the engineering-related program he wanted to pursue. He wanted to get a degree similar to his father’s because he likes the variety of work his father, Mr. Randy Groce, does as a plant engineer for Parker Hannifin, where he is responsible for plant maintenance and environmental health and safety.
Another reason Mr. Groce choose EKU is because it is in his hometown, which allows him to commute to school. “My family has also been involved with EKU. My mom, Mrs. Stacy Groce, has worked at EKU for 10 years and is currently the Administrative Coordinator for the School of Justice Studies. My sister, Ms. Bethany Groce, graduated from EKU in 2022 with a B.S. in Animal and Veterinary Sciences.”
Outside of class, Mr. Groce enjoys tinkering on classic cars and trucks. He has a blue 1967 Chevy truck that he drives daily. He also has a 74 Plymouth Satellite and a 61 Cadillac which are works in progress. He also enjoys welding and fabrication. He enjoys many outdoor activities and spending time with his family. He is active in CRU, a campus ministry, that he says has been a big part of his life and has allowed him to make a lot of good friends as well as grow in his faith.
Mr. Groce received 3 scholarships in 2021, an EKU Merit Scholarship, a RECC Citizen Scholar Scholarship, and a Gene Hass Foundation Scholarship. Mr. Groce said, “I owe a big thanks to my mother and my machine shop teacher, Mr. Lamb, for helping me get those scholarships. I was also selected to receive the William E. Sexton Endowed Scholarship in 2023.”
When asked what he learned the most at EKU, he replied, “I’ve learned a lot about myself while in college. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely learned a lot in all the classes that I’ve taken but I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself as a person, such as what’s important to me, my priorities in life, where I fit in, what I think, who I look up to, and where I stand on things.”
He continued, “When I graduated High School, I didn’t really want to go to college…but, I knew if I didn’t take the opportunity to go, I might regret it. Now that I’m 3 years in, it’s hard for me to think about what my life would have been like if I hadn’t decided to go. College has not been easy and has pushed me both mentally and physically, but I’ve learned what I’m capable of doing. I’ve never considered myself smart by any means, but I’ve somehow made it this far so there’s no turning back now.”
Mr. Groce currently is a Junior and is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering Technology Management. After graduation, he plans on going back to vocational school to become a machinist.
“As far as a job goes, I don’t know what I want to do when I graduate but what makes this degree great is that you get a broad spectrum of things involved with engineering, so it opens the door to an endless number of possibilities. I like hands-on work so maybe a job in industrial maintenance or machining. I don’t have any big plans for my future. I normally just wing it, put my faith in God, and let him lead me to where I need to go.”
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