Biosciences lab delivers job-ready graduates

Brassfield and Mixter
Brassfield, left, and Mixter. (Photo Henry Moore Jr., WSU Biomedical
Communications Unit)

PULLMAN, Wash. – For 16 years, Alberta (Bert) Brassfield, a WSU instructor, taught the immunology and virology lab to seniors, a course now known as Molecular Biosciences 430. The class was a favorite of many students because of its small size and lots of instructor-student interaction and individual attention. Alumni have described Bert’s class as pivotal in “putting it all together” and “clarifying my career path.”

So when Phil Mixter took over the lab last fall, it was no small task.

“I had big shoes to fill,” said Mixter, clinical associate professor. “For many students, this was the place where a lot of the foundational knowledge began to be integrated.”

Ready to work

Brassfield structured her labs to prepare students with the basic lab techniques they would need to start a job right out of college.

“It was my chance to present to students what they needed to know to work in a research lab,” she said. “I wanted them to go out and be functional.” 

To give her students the edge at a job interview, she wanted them to be able to say they had hands-on experience working with specific cell culture lines, something not every graduate has.

Biotech emphasis added

Mixter is continuing to integrate that knowledge and provide a career-oriented experience for students as they finish this part of their training. In the meantime, new goals of the microbiology degree program have been developed to continue to ensure students have the best possible preparation for future careers during their undergraduate years.

One goal is to give students a better sense of what kinds of things they will do day-to-day in biotechnology.

“The plan is to continue much of the course as Bert delivered it in the past but add several modules with a new emphasis,” said Mixter. “I am developing a biotechnology immersion experience to boost student preparedness for Washington’s technical positions in the biotech industry.”

Viewing Vermeers worldwide

After 36 years at WSU and nearly 800 students, Brassfield has been enjoying her retirement playing golf, taking yoga classes and visiting art museums. Her goal is to see all of Vermeer’s paintings.

What does she miss the most about WSU and the School for Molecular Biosciences?

“Interacting with the students,” said Brassfield. Over the years, she has run into some of her former students, several of whom have gone on to graduate or professional school.

“I always get a kick out of talking with them,” she said.