Guest Column

Nurturing relationships among NWC, UW and communities

By Rachel Watson
Posted 6/18/24

Kinley Bollinger, a student at Northwest College in Powell, presented three separate projects April 26 at the second annual Student Academic Showcase at Northwest College. This year, 72 students, …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in
Guest Column

Nurturing relationships among NWC, UW and communities


Kinley Bollinger, a student at Northwest College in Powell, presented three separate projects April 26 at the second annual Student Academic Showcase at Northwest College. This year, 72 students, supported by their faculty mentors, presented research, creative work or innovation.

I have known Kinley for two years and greeted her at the showcase during her first presentation, “Investigating Antimicrobial Activity of Artemisia.” As a University of Wyoming microbiologist, I was elated to visit with Kinley, supporting her in postulating a mechanism of action of the antimicrobial found in sagebrush.

Several of my colleagues joined me: Christi Boggs, online and digital teaching; Aubrey Edwards, anthropology; and Reshmi Singh, pharmacy. Two undergraduates, Izzy Brown, of Casper, and Jeremy Chappell, from Basin, both environmental systems science majors, and UW alumnus Kyle Bochanski, data scientist for Plenty Vertical Farming, also attended the showcase with our UW team.

Not far from Christi and I, Reshmi visited with students from Turkmenistan. Reshmi later told me, “In addition to being amazed by their passion and welcoming, when they heard I was a pharmacy professor at UW, the students shared that they wanted to transfer to an engineering program, but the lack of scholarship opportunities and the cost for international students are a barrier to transfer.”

Izzy and Jeremy engaged another student who was investigating antimicrobials in juniper berries. They asked about how the antimicrobial capacities of the berries might vary regionally.

Aubrey would later share that she “had the pleasure of creating a connection with an anthropology student who will be transferring to a four-year college in Utah in the fall. It was such a joy to learn about her passion for linguistic anthropology, which I also love.”

Christi stood beside me at Kinley’s poster and asked about Kinley’s career plans. Kinley related her intent to stay at NWC for another year to complete her EMS training before transferring to UW.

Kinley’s transdisciplinary passions became evident as the day unfolded. I spied her running out of the showcase after her poster presentation, only to reappear in new and appropriate attire to present on mass casualty training involving a school shooting simulation.

This heavy topic would exhaust most, but Kinley again ran out, changed clothes and presented for a third time with her poster “Wasps, Bees and Ants, Oh My!: Metabarcoding the Hymenoptera Microbiome of Big Horn Basin, The Sequel.”

Kinley is one of the many undergraduate students being mentored by Eric Atkinson, head of NWC’s biology department. Eric, along with fellow NWC faculty members Deepthi Amarasuriya, physics; Adrian Arismendi, business math; Austin Conklin, biology; Tim Glatzer, math; Uko Udodong, chemistry; Allan Childs, chemistry emeritus; Dacia DeBock, nursing; and Lisa Smith, institutional research, have been members of a learning community centered on inclusive excellence in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. NWC is one of five community colleges in Wyoming participating in the Wyoming Inclusive Excellence Initiative (IE).

The Wyoming IE nurtures relationships between Wyoming community colleges and UW. This initiative is funded, in part, by a grant to UW from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science Education Program.

This year, the NWC faculty members of the learning community have been joined by UW’s Sandy Goheen-Smith, kinesiology and health. Christi and I have led biweekly sessions and have taken great joy in learning with faculty as they have integrated inclusive pedagogies — such as universal design for learning and HSTEM (Being Human in STEM) — into their teaching. Such pedagogies enhance learning outcomes for all students and diminish the use of traditional teaching strategies that advantage certain groups.

In my conversation with Kinley during her final session of the day, I offered to come back during the summer with a graduate student and a UW INBRE (IDeA Networks for Biomedical Research Excellence) scientist to sequence bee microbiota.

I realized the profound success of the NWC/UW partnership-building efforts when visiting with Kinley and watching my entire UW team interact with diverse NWC students, faculty, administrators and staff.

Strong social networks sustain positive change. However, even network maps cannot capture the heart and soul of a relationship. Thus, our research team — Reshmi, Aubrey and previously Rosemary McBride, UW School of Teacher Education assistant lecturer, and I — has previously published (2023-24) and choose qualitative methodologies when assessing impact of the Wyoming IE.

But, on that Saturday after the showcase at an IE community session, I found myself in tears as I said goodbye to Eric. No research, no matter how robust, will ever fully tell the story of a bond tethering two scholars and their students across the 377 miles of Wyoming’s windswept plains.

My tears garbled my speech: “On some days, the one thing that keeps me going is knowing that you are up here at NWC doing such important work.”


(Rachel Watson is director of the UW Science Initiative’s Learning Actively Mentoring Program and co-program director of the Wyoming Inclusive Excellence Initiative.)