Dr. Alexander is a woman of many hats. She has been appointed to serve as associate professor in three of the university’s colleges — the College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Sciences; College of Arts and Sciences; and the College of Veterinary Medicine. However, her primary role as the director of the Ph.D program in Integrative Biosciences — Tuskegee’s largest doctoral program — demands the majority of her attention.
Alexander has trained more than 170 undergraduate and graduate students in her research lab in the last 13 years during her employment by the university. “I also teach a lot — typically between 10 and 12 classes a year,” said Alexander.
“Even though my primary responsibility relates to graduate students, I have a laboratory too that is almost exclusive to undergraduates from majors you would not expect,” she noted. “From English to business and engineering, our lab focuses on microorganisms and their effects on their environment from goats to turkeys to soils to human colons. Sometimes, students are drawn to us because they are inquisitive, or they might have a family history of a certain cancer and they want to learn more about it and research methods of prevention.”
Alexander says what’s special to her is seeing how those diverse majors end up becoming intertwined.
“You might be majoring in English, but you can help us write a report, and there’s an opportunity for students to create and discover things we don’t know yet,” she added.
“Students have the chance to publish papers and leave a legacy. Those papers will show people that you spent your time well at Tuskegee.”
Research and Service
Besides teaching in the classroom, Alexander says she strives to show students the value of giving back to the community. She says a quote from George Washington Carver — “It’s simply service that measures success” — should constantly resonate with our students and faculty.
“I think the best part of teaching is finding ways to engage students and to impart in them a passion for using their expertise to help others — and that their work should always be of service,” she said. “I want my students to have a Carver mindset.”
Recently, one of Alexander’s projects for her students consisted of working with the local Greenwood Cemetery.
“The members of the Greenwood Cemetery Association, some of whom are now in their 70s and 80s, asked for help to catalog the more than 2,800 graves — many of whom are people affiliated with Tuskegee University,” she said. “Association members didn’t have the ability to work on such a tedious project, so my first thought was that our students are young, gifted and physically able enough to spend the time needed to walk every inch of the cemetery and research those who are buried there.”
The project has since extended beyond the Greenwood Cemetery to include the Ashdale and Tuskegee (formerly Tuskegee City) cemeteries. She says during the research, students had a chance to use their diverse areas of science expertise to create a searchable database that pinpointed the exact location of each grave.
“What we’re hoping to do in the coming years is to add GPS technology,” she said. “This would include scanning a QR code into your phone, which would then guide you right to a specific grave, taking the guesswork out of the equation.”
Win the Future
Alexander has always had a passion for science, but what she enjoys the most is making her curriculum engaging and exciting.
“I love teaching and I enjoy debating with students. I don’t always want them to take my word for it, but to verify the things we discuss,” she noted. “I’ll often tell my students to ‘google it’ when they are challenging me — I want them to find a reference that supports their argument, because that’s how we learn.”
Alexander has received numerous grants and awards; however, she’s best known for being cited by President Barack Obama as a “Champion of Change” — someone recognized by the former president for doing extraordinary things to make a difference in the community.
“I just have the notion that everyone can make a difference, and it’s always special when you can leave a legacy for students,” she said.
For more information on the university’s Ph. D program in Integrative Biosciences, visit https://www.tuskegee.edu/programs-courses/colleges-schools/caens/phd-integrative-biosciences
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