Lyman Briggs:

beyond three decades.

By Peter Carrington and Douglas Luckie


 




High School students often face the hard question: Which is better, a large state university with great resources, or a smaller, more intimate college without the large schools pressures? Educators at Michigan State University have decided to offer both! When will this revolutionary change occur? It happened in 1967 and is still going strong.

In the 1960s innovative educational leaders believed that students at a large university didn't need to miss out on the advantages of a small college. "Letās give them the best of both worlds, why not create residential colleges within the larger campus?" they reasoned. Thirty years ago, under the leadership of then-president John Hannah, Michigan State University embarked upon a series of bold experiments. Three residential education programs; Lyman Briggs (a Science College), James Madison (a Public Affairs College), and Justin Morrill (an Arts College) were created to provide the living and learning experience that was to be a centerpiece innovation of the 60s. They were colleges designed to be oases of closeness and personal contact, as well as a home for the experience of interdisciplinary learning.

Through the three decades that followed, politics and budget cuts trimmed the programs down to two, Lyman Briggs and James Madison. Today these two units are vital elements of MSU, and make Michigan State University distinct from other state schools. In October of 1997, Lyman Briggs, now the Lyman Briggs School within the College of Natural Science, celebrated the success of its first 30 years, and looked toward the future. Edward Ingraham (LBS Director 1987-1998) explained, "Briggs mission is to provide undergraduate science students with a residential setting. LBS also provides a foundation in both the history and philosophy of science to complement the substance of mathematics, science and computer science."
 


What goes on there?


 


The original 1967 Lyman Briggs mission statement emphasized providing a solid education in the sciences balanced with a significant liberal arts background. To foster learning for undergraduates, the residential program provides a small college living atmosphere creating a living-learning environment. As the founding dean, Frederic Dutton explained, "One overriding factor was, that I think we felt the units were too large for ideal kinds of relationships to develop, and that having groups with some interests in common would be more efficient and do a better job." These same ideals continue to be a key to success today.

Today, Lyman Briggs has an expanding enrollment of 1300. LBS graduates are predominately on career paths in the Medical, Veterinary, and Life Sciences. The Lyman Briggs student (a "Briggsie") strives to become a thoughtful or thinking scientist, one who is armed both with a depth of knowledge in the sciences and a breadth of liberal arts education. Throughout the years, numerous Lyman Briggs students have won prestigious awards such as the National Science Foundation graduate fellowships and in 1997 Stephanie Palmer was the first Briggs student to win a Rhodes Scholarship.

Briggs has stood the test of time and has achieved great success. The Briggs model of innovation has not only altered the way other parts of MSU teach university science courses but has inspired Residential Units to be developed at other Universities. What is considered a new experimental idea at UC Santa Cruz is a time honored tradition at Michigan State.
 


Why the name Lyman Briggs?


 


When it was time to find a name for this science-oriented undergraduate school, Dutton explained, "Lyman Briggs was an alumnus at Michigan State College and he was a well regarded director of the U.S. Bureau of Standards for quite some time. Our new college had a science concentration and was primarily interested in the sciences and, as a distinguished alumnus, he seemed like a good choice." In retrospect, commemorating this man whose life of scientific investigation and public policy ranged so far, was more than just a good choice. Today, the small academic units with faculty from diverse fields, communicating over their common interests is at the heart of Lyman Briggs School. The real Lyman Briggs would be happy about that.

Lyman Briggs, the man, attended MSUs original precursor, Michigan Agricultural College, at a time when there were only two majors offered, Mechanical Arts and Agricultural Arts. He entered MAC and majored in Agricultural Arts. It was here he met and courted his wife, Katharine Cook, daughter of A.J. Cook, a major figure in the development of the entomology department.

Some of his works have included the description of the uptake of water by plants, improvements to the ultraviolet microscope, the absorption of water by quartz, and the mechanics of curve-ball pitching in baseball. However, it was Lyman Briggs sixty plus years of public service that was the platform for his role in history. Of great importance was his initial period as Director of the National Bureau of Standards. When Dr. Briggs took this assignment, the United States was in the depths of the Depression. He took office with a staggering 50% budget cut for his agency. His concern for his co-investigators, and his will to keep an essential research laboratory together, led him to an intricate system of unpaid leaves and part-time assignments that allowed two thirds of the career staff to remain. This was a testament to his diplomatic skills.

It was only a few years later that the threat of the Second World War found the United States suddenly, desperately in need of increased research capacity. Briggsā success in keeping this critical facility intact, bore immediate and continuing fruits.

In the summer of 1939, President Roosevelt appointed Lyman Briggs to chair the first committee to evaluate the military implications of nuclear fission. He would continue to affect U.S. nuclear policy for years after.

After 49 years of government service, Lyman Briggs, retired from the directorship of the National Bureau of Standards in 1945, meaning that he could now devote more of himself to his beloved research. He passed on March 26, 1963 at the age of eighty-eight.

Three and half years later, the school, bearing the name Lyman Briggs College, was inaugurated.
 




What was it like in the beginning?


 


Frederic Dutton, the founding dean of the then college, had started hiring staff in the winter of 1966-67 to fulfill the mission. Sandra Conner, Assistant to the Director, remembers, "I came in September of 67, I came at the very beginning, so right before fall quarter I started for my first year. Somehow I was surprised that we suddenly had students here" (the 30 year old experiment had begun). Although Lyman Briggs was to be an interdisciplinary program of Science and STS, in the beginning it just had STS (or rather LHP?).

STS

The first courses offered in the fledgling college, together comprise a unit which is now called Science and Technology Studies; then it was called Logic, History, and the Philosophy of Science. It was conceived in concert with the Philosophy department.

Philosophy Professor, Richard Hall, recalled, "When I came here, in 1969, as a prof, the Philosophy department here had an opening that I applied for ... and they also worked out an appointment for me with Briggs. At the time, we had basically three courses, a course in Symbolic Logic, a course in the History of Science, and a course in Philosophy of Science, and the students had to take them. It was one of the first, if not the first such program in the nation, and it gave Lyman Briggs a unique flavor in science education."

Sciences

Howard Hagerman, professor, has taught biology in Lyman Briggs since 1967. "In biology, one of the unique features, of course, are open labs. The fact that weāre somewhat smaller gives us a chance to do some innovative things that we wouldn't otherwise do. Open lab is one of these. That is, students come and go into lab on their schedule and not just during one 3-hour block. That allows us to set up experiments and expect students to return and take data on those at varying intervals, even throughout the semester." For example, during the laboratory experiments on tissue culture in Briggs, the students come in and take data on their experiment periodically. The students come in when their schedule permits and perform sequential experiments throughout six weeks. Open labs also mean that a student having difficulty with a concept can return to the open lab as often as necessary to master the material.

Lyman Briggs faculty see unlimited potential in their students. Dr. Luckie, Professor of Biology, remarked "These are freshman and sophomore undergraduates doing graduate level recombinant DNA experiments and why not? These students come here expecting to do it all because they're finally in college. Why should we make them wait until they're seniors or graduate students to get to do the fun stuff." As a result undergraduates learn advanced molecular biology at Briggs, several laboratories in a sequence teach students the Recombinant DNA techniques of: Transformation, Plasmid Purification and DNA Electrophoretic Analysis. "These are state of the art recombinant techniques that students can take with them to almost any lab on campus and start working now."
 


Small College Atmosphere


 


Smaller size has implications. Often what students like about Briggs is the teaching staff. Current students give visiting high school students tours and explain "I like the teachers and the TAs that I have, they know their stuff, they have flexible hours, and you actually get to know your professors." Smaller size gives everyone in the school more chance for contact.

Professors also find that refreshing. Jim Smith pointed out, "We get to know students well. They aren't just a number." Students tell stories about being surprised their professor knew their name. One student mentioned; "I was taking LBS-145 (Biology II) last year and during our early morning final exam Dr. Luckie kept looking concerned and then he sent a TA off to do something. Turns out he noticed one student was absent and sent the TA to wake her up. Sure enough, in she came a few minutes later."

Lyman Briggs strives to also take advantage of its small college atmosphere to increase the retention of students that leave the sciences due to 'weed out' mentalities and cultural barriers. Briggs tries to be a nurturing atmosphere to be more supportive of women and more comfortable for minorities. Briggs has a high number of women and continues to cultivate a good working relationship with the Drew program (Charles Drew Science Enrichment Laboratory) on campus. Holmes Hall has the potential to be a real place to give some of the underrepresented groups in science a 'leg up', at least at this level.
 


Innovation


 


But there is more to the unique teaching style than the sense of a smaller community. Lyman Briggs School is one of the first places on campus that heavily used undergraduate teaching assistants. Ed Ingraham explains, "Briggs started using undergraduate teaching assistants in the late 60s, and in fact, does a lot of that. Their experience isn't as great as graduate students, nor is their level of education as extensive, but they are crackerjack kids and their dedication is enormous. We give them a lot of responsibility."

LBS relies on undergraduate TAs because they know what the program is about. They are at more advanced levels, but they are sensitive to what the students are going through and what kinds of problems they are running into. For the people doing the teaching, that gets to be a problem because professors are more and more removed from what these students think. It is easy to forget what it was like, how easy it is to get concepts mixed up. The undergraduate TAs also help to keep the program fresh. This idea has been exported to the university at large and undergraduate TAs aren't only found in Briggs anymore.

Other ideas migrate out into the wider setting of the MSU departments. One example is the Physics courses taught in Lyman Briggs. Walter Benenson, Gary Westfall, and Wolfgang Bauer threw out the old Physics textbook and re created a curriculum around doing experiments and solving problems with modern tools. The students perform physics experiments and record and analyze their data right away with personal computers. This curriculum that was CD-ROM based has been exported to the Physics department and now their classes are computer based. Recently the curriculum was moved off the CD-ROM and re-located to the World Wide Web. It is now platform independent and widely accessible. Ideas may start in Lyman Briggs but the University is quick to adopt successful ideas for the rest of MSU.
 




Community


 


Recently LBS has been expanding its faculty by hiring a new Director and new Science and STS professors. These professors are challenging the students to do more. In addition to academic challenges set forth by faculty, students have quite a nice facility with which to accomplish these challenges in Lyman Briggs. This small college community includes: a residence hall wired with ethernet and cable TV, state of the art laboratories and classrooms; offices of professors and staff on site; and cafeteria, recreation and entertainment facilities all available within the compound which is Holmes Hall. For the faculty, Briggs is also quite attractive, professors get the chance to really concentrate on their teaching and intellectual pursuits, they get to interact with a diverse body of scientists, historians, and mathematicians. All of these faculty are people who are intrigued with the latest developments in science and the social and political implications of it. Itās a very invigorating place.

As Edward Ingraham states, "It's really the outstanding dedication of the staff that makes this place work."

Conner adds, "The faculty are very committed to undergraduate students and my own students come back and tell us about that, what it's like to move out, if you will, into some of the other parts of the university, but the faculty here really do care about the undergraduates. The entire staff does. This is really a very fine place to work."

In October of 1997, Lyman Briggs celebrated a milestone, its 30th anniversary. The 30th as you might suspect, was really a great celebration and a time to look back at accomplishments and look forward to the next century. It was a delightful time to have the alumni come back and share what they had gained from their education, what they valued, and hear people who had graduated twenty years ago as well as some of the more recent graduates all feeling like their education had been very significant.

The 30th anniversary also brought a famous author and scientist, Carl Djerassi, from Stanford University to give a talk. His book, 'Cantors Dilemma', was the centerpiece for debate on what scientific research is really like. Various Briggs Alumni returned to enjoy the fun, see old friends and tell tall tales. Stories were recounted of re-engineering Holmes Hall elevators, bridging the doors that previously separated the male and female wings in Holmes Hall, and becoming thoughtful reflective professionals finding rewarding careers and happy lives along the way. The 30th year also brought the first Dutton Fellow, Holly Bevsek, to Lyman Briggs. Just as Dr. Lyman Briggsā name lives on through the science program, Dr. Frederic Duttonās name now lives on through a innovative postdoctoral teaching position that his family has created called the Dutton Fellowship. This fellowship provides salary for recent Ph.D.ās in the sciences to come and teach at Lyman Briggs for a few years. Lyman Briggs gets new young energetic teachers and the fellow gets valuable teaching experience for their resume. What a great idea. Briggs keeps on experimenting with new ideas, over thirty years later the experiment goes on stronger than ever.