Theatre and biology aren’t commonly associated. After all, many consider one right-brained and the other left. But, that didn’t stop North Hennepin Community College’s Kathy Hendrickson and Bemidji State University’s Andy Arsham from forming a connection that benefited both programs.
Last fall, the unlikely pair submitted a proposal for a competitive Innovation Funding Grant offered by Minnesota State. The grant, modeled after ABC’s hit show Shark Tank, was designed to fund innovations that address obstacles to student success by using existing technologies, resources or practices in innovative ways.
Hendrickson and Arsham’s proposal, centered around an experimental course, aimed to use the power of performance to enhance the teaching and learning of genetics, build relationships between community college and university students, and encourage diversity in STEM fields. Put simply, it’s performance-enhance biology.
In March, Minnesota State awarded the duo $10,000 to pilot the course. This fall, NHCC theatre and BSU biology students are working together to develop short performances that embody key biological concepts under the guidance of Hendrickson, Arsham and The Expression Lab, a team of professional actors and educators who coach scientists of all levels in communication skills.
Through the interdisciplinary collaboration, three groups of students benefit: NHCC theatre, BSU biology and NHCC biology.
The course provides NHCC theatre students, who are only required to take a single biology course, with increased exposure and a fresh perspective of the societal importance of biology, while simultaneously developing valuable collaboration and creation techniques.
Likewise, BSU biology students have an opportunity to develop communication skills vital to their future success in STEM, including eye contact, vocal patterns, gesture, diction and volume. It also equips them with narrative-building and storytelling techniques, enhancing their ability to effectively communicate scientific concepts to non-scientists.
Finally, NHCC biology students receive a uniquely engaging introduction to key biology concepts by watching the final aforementioned groups’ final performances.