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McQuade
“I very much like working with students in the lab because many students don’t really appreciate the fact that a career in research is a viable path,” McQuade said.


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When cells talk, McQuade listens

Growing up on a farm, Kyle McQuade spent a lot of time thinking about biology, considering the way things grow and how they’re affected by the environment. As an associate biology professor at Colorado Mesa, he teaches science the way he sees it– as a challenging puzzle that’s more about questions than answers. His enthusiasm for teaching and research was recognized by his peers at the 2013 Spring Recognition Program, where he won the Distinguished Faculty Award.

“I very much like working with students in the lab because many students don’t really appreciate the fact that a career in research is a viable path,” McQuade said. “Students too often think of biology as a list of facts in a textbook to memorize, and don’t really understand that those ideas were discovered by scientists. You can be the scientist who makes those discoveries. That’s a lot of fun for me.”

This investigative approach is the underlying theme throughout McQuade’s courses. Established facts are important stepping stones, but the sheer amount of information can sometimes obscure the bigger picture. McQuade emphasizes that science is a way of thinking about the world and figuring out how to obtain new information. He said his biggest challenge is helping students “see the forest through the trees”.

“There are lots and lots of trees in biology. There are an enormous number of details, and many of those details are important. It’s hard to argue that you’re a well-trained biologist without knowing some of them, but the best-trained biologists don’t just know details, they know their context and how they’re relevant to one another,” he said.

The idea of scientific exploration also informs his research interests. He’s particularly interested in how an organism’s cells communicate.

“How is it that they talk to one another, and how is it that they instruct one another about what to do? It turns out that virtually all pathologies result at least in part from failures in cell communication. By understanding how cells communicate with each other, we can better understand development and disease,” said McQuade.

He recently collaborated on a paper exploring the effects of catechin compounds found in green tea. McQuade’s project is aimed at understanding how catechin affects the ability of cells to communicate with each other, which is important because many researchers believe the compounds could be beneficial to cancer patients, administered in combination with chemotherapy. His passion for the project and his field as a whole is apparent.

“It’s fun to think about this stuff. I think of biology like a crossword puzzle or like a sudoku game. There are all these little puzzles to solve… I think students appreciate that although they might not have fun solving them all the time, at least somebody does,” he said. •

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Dana Nunn, Director of Media Relations

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