CUTF: Deconstructing the Cell for First-Year Bioengineering Students

Hi everyone! My name is Reetwan Bandyopadhyay and I am a senior majoring in Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. I’m also pursuing a minor in Chemistry and a certificate in Conceptual Foundations of Medicine through the department of History and Philosophy of Science. For my project for the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Teaching Fellowship, I will be working alongside Drs. Carsten Stuckenholz and Lance Davidson to help teach Introduction to Cell Biology to the newest cohort of bioengineering majors at Pitt.

Coming into college, I had an inherent interest in many of the subjects and topics that comprise the discipline of bioengineering: math, chemistry, biology, and their application towards the development of new and exciting therapies for diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and more. However, I didn’t have an opportunity to evaluate my compatibility with the degree itself until my sophomore year, when I took Introduction to Cell Biology: the first course that bioengineers at the University of Pittsburgh take within the department. Looking back, I can confidently say that my first class in this course was a formative moment in my college career, and to this day, it remains one of my favorite courses that I’ve taken throughout my time at the University of Pittsburgh. What made the class an especially memorable experience was the way in which it was taught. The professors did an exceptional job of distilling complicated concepts in a way that made sense to the students, while still enforcing a level of self-teaching that underscored the level of work ethic that would be required to succeed in the bioengineering program moving forward. Their style of teaching created an academic experience that validated my choice to study bioengineering, and it is this experience that I hope to help deliver to the next generation of Pitt bioengineers by working under the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Teaching Fellowship.

Cell biology lectures can be incredibly dense. The amount of detail involved in the
intricate biochemical pathways that dictate the form and function of our cells is enough to send
the mind of a student learning the material for the first time reeling. Furthermore, budding
engineering students traditionally take courses like calculus, statics, and mechanics: in other
words, courses that require them to rely on their numerical and analytical skills over their ability
to absorb mass amounts of information. Therefore, the skill set necessary to succeed in BIOENG
1071 is often underused or underdeveloped in the students taking the course. To this end, I plan to set up review sessions, office hours, and extra-credit opportunities throughout the semester in order to facilitate the students’ learning in a way that will maximize their chances of success in this course. Furthermore, as someone who has recently taken the course, I hope to serve as a helpful and approachable resource for current students to ask questions to and reinforce their understanding. The best academic growth occurs when we are not afraid to make our mistakes and learn from them, and I want to provide a safe space for students to do so.

As someone who has previously worked as a teaching assistant for different courses and a
mentor in several non-academic capacities, teaching is something that I am deeply passionate
about. The CUTF represents an opportunity for me to put my passion into practice with a new
level of responsibility. I enthusiastically look forward to working hard towards fulfilling the
goals outlined in this proposal and making a positive difference in the learning experience of the
first-year Pitt bioengineers taking Introduction to Cell Biology.

Looking forward, I plan to pursue a career in medicine and academic research. I am fortunate that I have the opportunity to develop skills in teaching and scientific communication through the CUTF that will ultimately be invaluable in my desired career field(s).

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