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Monday, November 27, 2006

UNCP’s Dr. Len Holmes: A passion for promoting science

Catching up with Dr. Len Holmes is a little like jumping on to a moving train, a fast-moving train.

Len HolmesFresh from taping an interview in WNCP-TV studios on campus, the UNC Pembroke chemistry professor recently sat down for a wide-ranging interview. Once referred to as the University’s “$3 million man,” Dr. Holmes’ activities in promoting science have carried him near and far with outstanding results.

“I am not really sure how much grant money we’re working with right now, but I’ve probably helped the University get biotechnology-related grants totaling several million dollars over the past 15 years,” Dr. Holmes said.

With Dr. Holmes’ help and support of UNCP’s Center for Sponsored Research and Programs, the University was awarded a three-year grant this fall from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) totaling $490,000.

“The NIH is interested in producing more researchers in biomedicine,” Dr. Holmes said. “This is a ‘bridges to the baccalaureate’ program in partnership with Robeson and Sandhills Community Colleges to help more science students move from community colleges to four-year institutions.” (Bladen and Richmond Community Colleges are associate partners.)

Sheila Regan at Robeson and Dr. Rebecca Roush and Sandhills are project coordinators for their campuses.

“This is a very nice grant because it helps promising students pursue science at the next level,” Dr. Holmes said.

Dr. Holmes is already working with three other federal grants:

  • a $600,000 biotechnology development grant (ProjectBIO) from the National Science Foundation (NSF),
  • a $861,000 NSF grant (in partnership with Robeson Community College) to promote the training and use of technology in science education in the public schools in the region and
  • a $495,000 Department of Education grant (in partnership with UNC-Charlotte) to map new classroom strategies for teaching biotechnology in high education.

“I have many great colleagues like Drs. Maria Pereira and Siva Mandjinny and partners like Sylvia Pate at the Regional Center and J.D. Brooks and Leslie Lowry at Robeson Community College to name a few,” Dr. Holmes said.

“Without a high level of collaboration and support, especially from our Office of Sponsored Research and Programs, it would not work,” he said.

BIOTECH CENTER

Dr. Holmes’ passion is promoting biotechnology. The pieces are coming together with the addition of a biotechnology major at UNCP in 2005 and the University’s new biotechnology training and research center.

Bids for the 5,000-square-foot, $1.6 million biotechnology center are expected to go out this winter. It will be located at COMtech next to UNCP’s Regional Center for Economic, Community and Professional Center.

“This is the realization of a dream for me,” Dr. Holmes said. “At this facility, we will conduct biotechnology research with advanced scientific equipment with the goal of training students for the biotechnology industry.

“The big news this fall is that Chancellor (Allen C.) Meadors and I were appointed to the Advisory Committee for Biotechnology in Southeastern North Carolina,” Dr. Holmes said. “This is the group that was brought together by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, which promotes biotechnology in our region and our state.”

GLOBAL CONNECTIONS

Dr. Holmes’ promotion of science is not confined to the boundaries of UNCP or even the State of North Carolina. He recently returned from Siberia, his fourth visit in less than two years.

“I am working on a collaboration between our faculty and the faculty of Tomsk State Pedagogical University (TSPU),” Dr. Holmes said. “We plan to bring a distinguished visiting faculty member from Tomsk in the fall semester 2007 to teach physics.

“It’s a challenge,” Dr. Holmes said. “Dr. Jose D’Arruda and I have been cultivating this relationship for some time.”

The challenge is already paying off, however, with UNCP’s faculty contributing six articles to the fall edition of TSPU’s education journal. A physics Olympiad between UNCP and TSPU students is also being planned.

That is just one phase of Dr. Holmes’ program to promote science.

“This summer, we launched a biotechnology blog aimed at building a virtual biotechnology community among high school students and their teachers,” he said. “We want them to get more involved in the sciences, particularly biotechnology.”

The Internet project – www.biotech-thinktank.com - was funded from a small grant from the National Institutes of Health in partnership with Indiana University.

SCHOLARSHIP

The newly endowed UNCP Biotechnology Scholarship was the subject of a television interview taped on October 31. Dr. Holmes contributed $10,000 to launch the scholarship.

“I owe so much to UNCP and North Carolina, and this is such a small thing,” he said. “I’ve put so much of my life into this University.”

The University owes a lot to Dr. Holmes, Chancellor Meadors said.

“Dr. Holmes is a leader in the field of biotechnology and an asset to UNC Pembroke,” Chancellor Meadors said. “He has dedicated his life to the field of science and his students and this University benefit from his lifelong scholarship.”

For more information about biotechnology at UNCP, please contact the Chemistry and Physics Department at 910.521.6247 or email chem_phy@uncp.edu. For more information about giving at UNCP, please contact the Office for Advancement at 910.521.6252 or email advancement@uncp.edu.

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