MSA Educator Spotlight: Brian Perry

  • What is your name and how long have you been teaching mycology?
    My name is Brian Perry. I am a Professor of Biological Sciences at California State University East Bay and have been teaching mycology courses since 2009.

  • What is the title of your mycology-focused course and what is the level of your course?
    At CSU East Bay I teach two mycology courses. The first, titled Biology of Fungi, is an upper division undergraduate major’s course that is utilized by both our Microbiology & Clinical Lab Science and Ecology & Evolution concentration students. The second course, titled California Fungi, is also an undergraduate upper division elective that is used by both biology and environmental science majors. Both courses typically have MS graduate students enrolled along with the undergraduates. Over the summer break I also teach a week-long field course titled, Spring Fungi of the Sierra Nevada. This is a course that I “inherited” from Drs. Dennis Desjardin and Harry Thiers, that is offered at a field station run by San Francisco State University. This course is utilized by students, state and federal agency personnel, and teachers looking to satisfy continuing education requirements.

  • What is your favorite activity taught in this course and what is the goal of this activity?
    In my Biology of Fungi course, I have the students design and conduct a semester-long research project focused on foliar fungal endophytes of native California plants. In the introductory lab periods, the students learn about the biology of fungal endophytes and then design and carry out experiments to test hypotheses they develop together as a group. In previous years the students have been limited to using traditional fungal culturing techniques to test their hypotheses, but this year I am adding next-generation sequencing (NGS) to their available tool kit. In our molecular research lab, we have several NGS platforms available that the students can use to perform metagenomic analyses of the fungal communities found in our local native plants.
    In both the fungi courses I teach on campus I also have the students participate in citizen science by having them make at least 15 observations of fungi on iNaturalist, many of which are pulled into the Fungi of the CSU East Bay Campus iNat project I started several years ago. The students really get into this assignment, with many of them continuing to make observations well after the semester ends and even after they have graduated.
  • How is this activity assessed (exam, essay rubric, other)? In other words, how do you know if it’s effective?
    At the end of the semester the students will be presenting the results of their research projects in both a poster session, to which the entire department is invited, as well as in a written lab report. Both the poster and report will be assessed using a rubric made available the students in advance.
  • What advice would you give to someone who is new to teaching a mycology-focused course or who is looking to update their previously taught mycology-focused course?
    Incorporate opportunities for student-designed and conducted research projects! In my experience our students truly benefit from a “learn by doing” approach to the course material and love to opportunities to practice being scientists. Several of my former students have ended up getting jobs in the biotechnology industry, inpart because of the research experience they gained in my courses!