Macdonald’s technicians – working behind the scenes

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Five of the in-house technicians: L-R (standing) Khosro Mousavi, Eby Noroozi, Guy Rimmer and David Meek. Kneeling is Denyse Laurin with Labrador Retriever Abbey.

|  Helen Rimmer

They are out there—in the labs, in the fields and barns, behind machinery, balancing on top of ladders and lurking under benches. Often behind the scenes, they tend to the animals (large and small), nurture the plants, prepare laboratory materials, repair and modify equipment, and train students (and professors!) in the use of equipment. They are the Faculty’s 25+ technicians, a highly-trained and diverse lot, with centuries of history and experience among them, and they keep the place running smoothly. While some support research and others teaching, still others do a bit (actually a lot) of both! They are a dedicated group who are used to thinking on their feet and whose imagination and creativity come up with on-the-fly solutions to circumvent problems and make learning more interesting for students. Meet five of the in-house technicians who are working hard to enhance the student experience in the laboratories.

The Anatomy “Labs”

Animal Science’s Denyse Laurin, BScAgr’88, has been at Macdonald for 24 years, working in the Large Animal Research Unit (LARU) and overseeing the Mammalian Physiology and Comparative Anatomy labs. Her aim is to make learning fun for the students and to provide them with as much hands-on experience as possible.

“The students are what motivates me,” says Denyse. “Especially when you see the light in their eyes when they understand and relate to the class material.”

Denyse occasionally brings her dogs – Labrador Retrievers Bascou and Abbey – to Anatomy labs. “I use them to show students venipuncture sites, how to palpate ganglions, certain reflexes,” she says. “When I do bring them in, they just spread joy and that, to me, is priceless!”

“Having someone like Denyse play a critical role in our lab-based courses like Mammalian Physiology and Comparative Anatomy is invaluable,” says Professor Kevin Wade, Animal Science’s Chair. “Her years of experience provide a professional and nurturing environment to students, who often discover their talent for anatomy as a result.”

Guy-of-all-trades

Guy Rimmer, BSc’77, MSc (UNB), provides support for the teaching and research activities of the Plant Science Department. “A lot of what I learned during my academic years has proved to be directly applicable to the job and has remained so over the thirty years that I have been here,” says Guy.

He has now become the go-to person in Plant Science for solutions to all kinds of issues. “From the beginning this job has presented new challenges almost every day. Meeting those challenges, solving problems and making sure that things are working smoothly have always got me going.”

“In the labs, I have always tried to present the materials and equipment required for a teaching lab session to the students in a way that makes it easier for them to understand how they are to proceed through the lab exercise. By removing confusion as to which instrument or reagent to use at which step, students are better able to succeed with the experiment and will not spend a disproportionate amount of time on the technique rather than the science.”

“Guy is our important link between equipment, students and staff in the department,” says Plant Science Chair Martina Stromvik. “As a notable keeper of our institutional memory, he carries a substantial load, but ensures a smooth day-to-day and year-to-year operation.”

Over the years, Guy has mentored more than thirty-five work-study students, training them in laboratory and greenhouse procedures, as well as in equipment use and maintenance, skills that have proved invaluable to them after graduation.

Fostering interest and understanding

Both David Meek, BScAgr’99, MSc’02, PhD’14, and Khosro Mousavi, BScAgr’85, assist in lab prep for the Department of Natural Resource Sciences (NRS).

Since 2001, David has been in charge of all things microbiology, from purchasing all materials and supplies that are needed to repairing equipment, and preparing all media and reagents related to the microbiology undergrad labs.

“I instruct the students and answer all their questions,” says David. “We try to make the labs interesting and fun for the students. Many, when they come to the first lab, are very leery about working with microbes. I tell them that microbes are everywhere, that we could not survive without them, and that all the good things in life–beer, wine, cheese, and bread– owe their existence to microbes. By the end of the year, microbes have become ‘fun.’”

Khosro, who has been in his position since 1990, is committed to making the Biology and Soils labs more interactive for students, and above all keeping them involved and interested. Over the years, he has built up an inventory of specimens for the biology labs, so that students can actually get to handle skulls and skins in the lab. He also provides an essential service to the students and department by coordinating transportation for field trips. Hundreds of students in several courses move from campus to field sites each week in the fall and often in the winter as well. Careful coordination is essential to make sure this field-based learning is safe and efficient, and fits comfortably into student schedules that are already packed with lectures and lab work.

Beyond the lab

Ebrahim (Eby) Noroozi, MSc’78, is a great supporter of Macdonald’s students. He has been a member of the Food Science Department for 29 years; as Lab Course Coordinator, certified food scientist and a registered safety professional, Eby trains students in laboratory safety, a skill that is essential as they get ready to take on careers in the food industry. But Eby’s commitment to students goes beyond the lab. He is actively involved in student recruitment for his department and in Macdonald Branch activities such as recognizing Gold Key recipients during Founder’s Day Celebrations. “I am proud when I see students being recognized for their efforts.”

Of course, these five are just a handful of the technicians who make help enhance the student learning experience. The common thread is that they help ensure that students remain engaged throughout the year. As Khosro Mousavi replied when asked what motivates him in his job: “When students understand a topic in the lab,  then I know that I have done my job.”

Supporting grad research

Technicians are also key to helping graduate students shape their research methodology. Their diverse backgrounds position them well to look at problems from different angles, while their experience with techniques and technology allows them to render invaluable assistance to designing and carrying out a research project by defining which machines, instruments and facilities will effectively support a graduate student’s research endeavors.

“Whether it is an organism to dissect, a bacteria to observe, a soil profile to interpret, a forest canopy to measure, or a plant to grow, we all know that we learn more and we learn better if we can get ‘up close and personal’ with our subject,” says Professor Jim Fyles, Chair of Natural Resource Sciences. “At Macdonald we are blessed with great labs and field sites that are perfect for experience-based learning. But it doesn’t just happen! Our technicians are an essential part of the teaching team, laying the foundations, sometimes months, sometimes just minutes, in advance, so that we can provide the best hands-on experience to our students.”

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