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The Mutual Benefits of Faculty-Student Mentoring: A Conversation with Prof. Igor Zaitsev and Raymond Szigeti, BMCC Student

Jan Stahl, English

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JS: Tell us about your project.

IZ: Raymond and I worked together to develop visual memory-aid illustrations for a microbiology textbook that I’m writing. I teach advanced classes in microbiology. Students planning to work in health-related disciplines have to take a microbiology course with an emphasis on clinical microbiology. Students need to learn abstract concepts and complex material. Raymond and I collaborated to construct cartoons that function as visual memory tools so that mechanisms of infectious diseases could be made more comprehensible to students.

RS: Our main approach was to combine science with art and popular culture, and scientific concepts with humorous illustrations.   

IZ: Visual aids make it easier for students to grasp crucial theoretical knowledge. For example, one of the illustrations is a cartoon that looks like a man putting a coat on a woman. This illustrates that Hepatitis D virus requires the presence of Hepatitis B virus as a helper for its coat assembly.

JS: [to IZ] What motivated you to mentor a student?

IZ: I wanted to work with someone who knows how to draw so that we could develop the visual memory aids I had in mind.  

JS: How did the two of you decide to collaborate?

RS: I was taking a Biology 210 course with Prof. Mata. I’m a Liberal Arts Major and I’m interested in a career in scientific illustration. Prof. Mata was aware of my interests. She also knew that Prof. Zaitsev was working on a textbook. Prof. Mata suggested that I get in contact with him and show him my work.

JS: How much time did the two of you spend together?

RS: We interacted often. Prof. Zaitsev and I met weekly all semester and frequently exchanged emails. Prof. Zaitsev would provide me with a rough sketch, and explain the scientific concepts and the medical process he wanted illustrated. Then I’d try to put it together as aesthetically and simply as I could.  

JS: Did you encounter any stumbling blocks?

IZ: The main stumbling block was that the material is very advanced. Raymond, like many students, never took a microbiology course. We got around this though a lot of talking. 

JS: I understand your collaboration is reaching an audience beyond the attendees of the BMCC poster session.  

RS: I presented our work recently at the Einsteins in the City 2011: An International Student Research Conference at the City College of New York.  

IZ: Raymond’s illustrations will be included in the book I’m currently working on, Interactive Lectures of Major Principles of Microbiology, to be published with Edwin Mellen Press, and will eventually be used with students in my microbiology class.   

JS: [to IZ] Would you mentor a student again? 

IZ: Definitely. Working with Raymond has inspired me to work with students who have a variety of interests in addition to science. Another student I’m currently mentoring is interested in a career in linguistics.   

JS: [to IZ] What would you tell an instructor who hasn’t mentored a student yet?

IZ: I would highly recommend that instructors mentor students because we learn a great deal from our students. Mentoring students has given me the opportunity to do something new.