Jan. 9, 1997
Vol. 16, No. 8

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    Profile: Jose Quintans

    Chicago is one of the few universities where science and medical faculty members teach the biological sciences at every level, from undergraduate to postdoctoral. It is also one of a handful of universities that ensures that every undergraduate studies biology.

    As Master of the Biological Sciences Collegiate Division, Jose Quintans, Professor in Pathology, loves the fact that all students at Chicago take biology. In his own words, he is a "true believer" in the mission of the Biological Sciences, and he attempts to share the excitement he feels in the study and teaching of biology with his undergraduate students.

    Born in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Quintans received his Ph.D. at the University of Santiago Medical School in 1975. In 1976, he came to Chicago as a visiting professor at the La Rabida-University of Chicago Institute and joined the Chicago faculty the following year.

    Quintan's current research focuses on the molecular basis of programmed cell death -- "apoptosis" -- and the organized ways that cells go about causing their own demise, as in the case of human skin cells. Much of his time, however, is spent dealing with the myriad issues and events of the Biological Sciences Collegiate Division and the Biological Sciences Learning Center, the state-of-the-art teaching and research building that opened in 1994.

    Beginning in autumn quarter this year, the Biological Sciences Collegiate Division instituted several changes in its Core curriculum. Quintans discussed these changes and other matters regarding his life at the University. What's your favorite place on campus? That's an easy one -- the Biological Sciences Learning Center. That's where I teach and have my office. It feels like home, notwithstanding the fact that I'm living with close to 900 undergraduates, many of whom seem to be in my office every day.

    Has the Learning Center been a success with students and faculty? A complete success. It is probably the best facility in the world for the teaching of biology. I can't stress enough what a change this has been from the old days of the 1970s and 1980s, when biology teaching didn't really have a home, or any place that felt like home, at Chicago. The biological sciences have always been somewhat split between different buildings. It felt like there was no center, no hub of activity. Having the Learning Center on campus has generated a lot of enthusiasm among the teaching faculty of the Medical School and the Biological Sciences Division. Faculty in the area of biology like to teach, but at a level that is satisfying both to themselves and to their students. It is clear to me that the building itself not only has accomplished this but also has, in effect, supported the whole biological enterprise as we see it at Chicago.

    Is there anything else that needs to be done in the Learning Center? Or is it perfect? I've said this many times to many people -- there should be an espresso machine in every nook and cranny of this building, at least a virtual reality version. Students should be able to make a cup of espresso for themselves anytime they want.

    What's the deal with the new biology Core courses for undergraduates? Previously, undergraduates could fulfill their Biological Sciences requirement by selecting from 26 different year-long sequences, each made up of three different quarter-long courses with each three-quarter sequence covering basic biological knowledge. This fall, we streamlined these to include the best 15 sequences. We weeded out the sequences that were less effective and have worked to ensure that the 15 now offered have a greater conceptual coherence -- and, in turn, a greater attractiveness -- for all undergraduates. For example, three are specifically designed for biology majors. Also this quarter, Bernard Strauss [Professor in Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology] is teaching General Genetics, the centerpiece of the popular 107-108-109 sequence, between the classes Ecology & Evolution and Principles of Psychology. In addition, this winter we are starting a sequence for those who want to begin fulfilling the biology core requirement in an off-quarter.

    How does this affect the role that the Biological Sciences Learning Center plays in the lives of students? The Biological Sciences Learning Center plays an important role in the new curriculum changes. The new curriculum has been specifically designed to replace classroom lectures with laboratory investigations, using the Learning Center's incredible resources, with the ultimate goal of encouraging students to appreciate the excitement and relevance of scientific discovery. Also, the proximity of research in the building will energize both students and faculty in the Learning Center and will provide students with a singular opportunity to appreciate firsthand the frontiers of biological science. The whole educational experience will be raised a notch above what it used to be in our programs.

    Last question: Which fictional television show would be the best match for a Chicago pre-med: "E.R." or "Chicago Hope"? I have no idea. I don't watch them. I have more important things to do -- like watch Bulls games.

    -- Jeff Makos