Biology Professor "Rob" Hatherill Receives U.S. Presidential Award in Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring
Article by Melinda Eddleman
The White House issued a news release. The National Science Foundation (NSF) sent word to Del Mar College (DMC) of the exciting news.
John Robert “Rob” Hatherill, Ph.D., biology professor with the College’s Natural Sciences Department, is a recipient of the Presidential Award in Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM). The recognition includes a $10,000 check from the NSF, a signed certificate from President Donald J. Trump, a trip to Washington, D.C., for a celebration and professional development and networking activities with other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) mentors from across the country.
The award recognizes the critical role Hatherill plays as “a mentor outside the traditional classroom setting in the academic and professional development of the future STEM workforce.” Texas is one of only 13 states with recipients in this award category, and Hatherill is one of two representing Texas with the other recipient from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
The notification letter from the NSF’s PAESMEM Team notes that Hatherill “represents the most outstanding mentors America has to offer and serves as both a model and an inspiration to students and those entering the professional workforce.” Since 1995, the PAESMEM has recognized and honored mentors’ dedication and hard work to broaden students’ education and pursuit of careers in STEM fields.
Since beginning his tenure at Del Mar College, Dr. Hatherill has been passionate about helping students through new and creative methods of delivery of science education.
Halcomb nominated the professor for the award. Hatherill began setting his track record at Del Mar College over 10 years ago.
His innovative approach to providing hands-on research experiences led Del Mar College to become one of the first community colleges accepted into the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science Education Alliance Phage Hunters (SEA PHAGES) program. DMC students began conducting biotechnology laboratory work on campus as part of this pioneering research project for undergraduate students.
The DMC Phage Hunters program was established as a one-year research-mentoring course that develops concepts and techniques from multiple disciplines across biology, such as molecular biology, electron microscopy, microbiology and bioinformatics. Students conduct authentic research, which is embedded into their coursework.
The Medical Institute’s SEA PHAGES program allows the College’s students to contribute to a real scientific database, too. They present real scientific data and publish abstracts and papers just as graduate students do at top tier universities. The program allows DMC students to experience the real culture of discovery-based research and the actual collaborative nature of science.
On a national basis, very few four-year schools and even fewer two-year schools offer such a program at the undergraduate level.
In addition to the Phage Hunters program, biosciences students have had access to internships to expand their hands-on learning experiences. Hatherill has served as a summer faculty fellow with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California for 12 years and has sponsored a DMC student each year to work with him and other leading scientists. Additionally, students have interned at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Research Center and at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and Texas A&M University-Kingsville, among other research locations, to prepare for further studies or entry into the STEM workforce.
Hatherill and colleague Daiyuan "Daisy" Zhang, Ph.D., associate professor of biotechnoloy, continue to build the College’s biosciences programs. Their efforts have attracted many students with this area of study seeing 10 to 20 percent enrollment growth each year over the past five to six years. And, the DMC Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) program offers students opportunities to become proficient and independent undergraduate researchers.
Mentoring efforts by Hatherill and other Natural Sciences faculty have driven tremendous success, especially among biotechnology majors, who have put Del Mar College on the map at national and international levels. More than 30 DMC students have won first or second place during undergraduate research competitions at regional and national conferences.
Some examples of those successes include a DMC student taking first place and the $10,000 prize during the U.S. Department of Energy’s Science and Energy Research Challenge, beating out top-tier university and Ivy League students (fall 2010); the three-student DMC biotechnology team winning first place in the National Science Foundation and American Association of Community Colleges third annual Community College Innovation Challenge (June 2017); another DMC student bringing home first place honors from the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative (CCURI) Fall Colloquium (December 2017); in late spring 2019, a biotechnology major attending the 2nd World Congress on Undergraduate Research in Oldenburg, Germany, to share his work with other student researchers from all over the world; and last fall, a DMC 2012 biotechnology graduate, who is now a senior research technician with Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, publishing his first research article on wound healing in Nature Communications, a prestigious scientific journal that covers the natural sciences.
Del Mar College anticipates opening its new southside Corpus Christi campus in 2022. The success of the Natural Sciences Department’s biosciences programs––biology, biotechnology and now biomanufacturing––have earned these programs the recognition as a Center of Excellence, and the College will house them in the new STEM Building when construction is completed.
Hatherill and his colleagues will be ready when the new facility opens. Ready to teach. Ready to develop new and innovative learning opportunities. Ready to mentor the next generation of the STEM workforce.
Del Mar College empowers students to achieve their dreams. We offer quality programs, individual attention, outstanding instruction through faculty with real-world experience and affordable costs to credit and noncredit students in Corpus Christi and the South Texas Coastal Bend area. Nationally recognized while locally focused, we’re ranked in the top two percent of community colleges in the country granting associate degrees to Hispanic students (Community College Week). Del Mar College focuses on offering our students programs that match current or emerging career opportunities. Whether students are interested in the fine arts, sciences, business, occupational or technical areas, students get the education they need for the future they want at Del Mar College.