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President of the Tennessee Academy of Science for 2015.

This year marks the 102nd year of the Tennessee Academy of Science. I am honored to have the opportunity to serve as President in 2015. I began my service to the Academy as a Member-At-Large in 2009 and became the Director of Electronic Communications in 2012. In that position, I worked to improve the website for the Tennessee Academy of Science. If you have not visited the site recently, I encourage you to do so. The site is at I am a relatively recent transplant to Tennessee. I moved to Nashville in 2002 to accept a position as a Research Scientist at Vanderbilt University. I was fortunate to find a faculty position in the Department of Biology at Austin Peay State University in 2004 and have stayed there ever since!

I was raised in Fridley, a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota. I graduated from Fridley Senior High in 1985 and enrolled in Computer Science at the University of Minnesota. During my first year of college, I realized that I needed to come up with a better plan for financing my education. I've always loved aviation and was interested in the armed forces. Therefore, I enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve as a Fire Control Repairman and was trained to repair the armament systems of Cobra helicopters. I enjoyed my military experiences, serving a total of 14 years in the U.S. Army Reserve, Minnesota National Guard, and Virginia National Guard. After returning from my military training, I decided that Computer Science was not the right career for me. I spent a year considering what I wanted to do before choosing Animal Science. I chose the major because I spent many childhood summers working on an uncle's farm and was interested in a career related to animal production. However, one professor and two classes changed my career and life forever.

That professor was Dr. Mohamed El Halawani. He taught the beginning lectures of Systemic Physiology. I learned much in that course, including the distribution of ions around a cell and the structure of the Autonomic Nervous System. I still remember a comment he made on the first day of class when he remarked on the large number of students sitting in the front of the room. One of the most important lessons I learned in that class was that professors were willing to help students and answer questions outside of the classroom. Later, I took another of his courses, Farm Animal Environment. I was fascinated when I learned about subjects as diverse as animal thermoregulation and how daylength controlled avian reproduction. Near the end of the course, I excitedly approached Dr. El Halawani and asked if I could work in his lab. I was so excited that I told him that I would like to work for free. A month or so later, he told me that I spent so much time working in the lab that he felt he had to pay me. When I completed my B.S. in Animal Science in 1991, I pursued a Master's of Science Degree in Animal Physiology under his mentorship. I studied the control of incubation behavior in turkeys and, in particular, the role of vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP). I completed the M.S. degree in 1994 and immediately began pursuing a Ph.D. in the same laboratory. This time, my research was focused on the catecholamines that regulate VIP secretion. On December 7th, I defended my dissertation and completed my Oral Exam. On December 12th, I married Yuhong Tao and moved to Virginia to begin a Postdoctoral Fellowship by early January.

At the University of Virginia, I wanted to begin using a different model system and study a hormone that stimulated reproduction. Dr. Sue Moenter hired me as a Postdoctoral Fellow to study the intracellular mechanisms that control the release of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). The most important things that I learned while working with Dr. Moenter included a different approach to research, a different method for interpretation of scientific data and different writing and editing styles. My interest in biological clocks was reinforced at the University of Virginia. Biological clocks control seasonal events such as avian reproduction as well as high frequency events such as the secretion of GnRH. Therefore, I began looking for another position that would allow me to work in the field of biological clocks.

My interest in clocks led me to another postdoctoral position, this time at the University of Kentucky under the supervision of Dr. Doug McMahon. Under his supervision, I deepened my knowledge of biological clocks and learned more about electrophysiology. Dr. McMahon moved his laboratory to Vanderbilt University and I was fortunate to move along with him. I continued to work in his laboratory until 2004 when I was hired as an Assistant Professor by Austin Peay State University.

Teaching is now my primary focus. I teach several physiology courses: Human Anatomy and Physiology, Animal Physiology, Human Physiology, and Reproductive Physiology.

I still study GnRH, but work using avian and murine models. I am very interested in teaching and have put much effort into improving the teaching of physiology. I have investigated the effects of including mandatory tutoring sections on student performance and have incorporated data from Course Compass to compare predicted grades and final grades.

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to serve as President of the Tennessee Academy of Science for the coming year. TAS has provided numerous opportunities for me and for the student researchers that have worked in my laboratory. I am honored to reciprocate by serving as the President of the Tennessee Academy of Science.
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Author:Pitts, Gilbert
Publication:Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science
Date:May 1, 2015
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