Dr. Jim Gentile is an avowed Deadhead.
The Grateful Dead fan acknowledged such to his keynote address at the sixth annual Undergraduate Research Conference last Wednesday. He posts a song by the group daily on his Facebook page.
"Today it was Ramblin' Man, I thought it appropriate as I'll be talking," he said.
Gentile is president of Research Corporation for Science Advancement, the second-oldest foundation in the country, behind the Carnegie Corporation. It is a leading advocate for the sciences and a major funder of scientific innovation and of research in U.S. colleges and universities.
Gentile came to campus because of a friendship he developed with Provost Dr. Beth Weatherby and Biology Professor Dr. Betsy Desy in their combined work on Project Kaleidoscope, one of the leading advocates in the United States for what works in building and sustaining strong undergraduate programs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Gentile's academic resume is "this long." Prior to heading the Research Corporation for science advancement, he was dean for the natural sciences at Hope College in Holland, Mich. He's authored more than 100 research articles, books chapters, reviews and special reports, and is a frequent speaker on issues involving the integration of scientific research and higher education.
He's not much for textbooks. When he taught, he'd have some available in the library, but they weren't required. He instead is an advocate of collaborative research, of working together to find solutions, "the purest form of education," he calls it.
He's an advocate of horizontal learning.
"One of the keys is getting out of the silos, get different academic areas working together," he said. "That's easier said than done, though."
Tapping the expertise of various academic areas was what Gentile did in a Thailand village once. The village had a high amount of cancer cases.
"Almost 100 percent of the men had cancer, and about 50 percent of the women," he said. His group, made up of an ecologist, cultural anthropologist, toxicologist, an aquatic expert and women's studies expert, found that a fish consumed by villagers was the cause. It contained a parasite.
The women's studies expert found that the men ate the better part of the fish - the fillet - while the women ate what was left.
"That explained why only 50 percent of the women got cancer," he said. "It shows how the research of many, and sharing those findings, can contribute to finding the solution."
Undergraduate research is near and dear to Gentile's heart. In fact, his foundation does not award grants unless at least one undergraduate will be involved with the project.
As for the belief that men do better than women in science, Gentile said it's just a myth.
"There's more of them, but they don't do any better," he said. "Early on, it's a confidence thing. Men tend to gravitate toward the physical sciences. But no, they don't do any better."
The Research Corporation for Science Advancement "doesn't fund the science of today. We fund the science of the future," he said.
He maintains that at the high school level, there should be fundamental changes in the way education is delivered.
"It has not evolved much from 25 years ago," he said. "It should be more linear, there are too many smokestacks in each department. And the students of today are a completely different study body than 25 years ago, in what they know and what they can do."
Linear learning would help students progress more successfully up the sciences' academic ladder, he said.
"From grade school to middle school; from middle school to high school; from high school to college; and from a two-year to a four-year college, those are all huge (academic) jumps. More linear learning, more coupling, would help that process,"?he said.