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Duquesne University Service-Learning Course Recognized as National Model

A Duquesne University project that studies feral cats has been nationally recognized as one of three model courses in service learning by Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER), an arm of the National Science Foundation.

SENCER model courses are chosen because they demonstrate success, showcase effective strategies and evidence potential for broader implementation and adaptation. The models also foster interdisciplinary understanding, increase civic engagement and personal responsibility, and help students develop ethical sensibilities.

Dr. Nancy Trun, associate professor and microbiologist, Dr. Lisa Ludvico, assistant professor of biological sciences and forensic science, and Dr. Becky Morrow, assistant professor of biological sciences and veterinarian, all in the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, collaborated with faculty at La Roche College and Butler County Community College to develop this Application-Based Service Learning course. The class guides students in using scientific research to study a community problem.

“We chose the feral cat issue because there are so many feral cats and they can cause problems in a community, but cats also are a companion animal,” Trun said. “So there are social issues, ethical issues and health concerns—a perfect mix for Duquesne students to learn.”

Students have been studying bacteria carried by feral cats and working to limit their numbers in a nine-county area of Western Pennsylvania. Through a six-year partnership with the Homeless Cat Management Team, a local nonprofit organization, students and faculty have worked in spay/neuter clinics and collected samples from some of these thousands of cats for study in their courses.

Duquesne professors and students utilize clinical samples across a variety of classroom discussions and laboratories. Student volunteers at the clinics observe surgical procedures and participate in the post-operative monitoring of the animals. DNA samples from ear tips are used to complete a genetic profile. Biology majors may also choose to take Trun’s semester-long Superlab course, which focuses on the microbes carried by feral cats and compares them to the microbes found on client-owned cats.

“Students are approaching this project through various lenses, from the research experience to solving a community problem,” said Bayer School Dean David Seybert.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 10,000 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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