Martha Matteo, Faculty

Martha Matteo, Founding Faculty Member in the Biology Dept (1967-75) including the “Biology of Cells” course

I was one of the younger faculty members at UMB. I was initially hired fresh from my PhD at Brandeis University (biochemistry) to “teach freshman biology.” I was willing, but not eager. However, before start of Fall semester, I was recruited away from that task by veteran scientist Dr. Herb Lipke who had been recruited to create and teach the senior level “Biology of Cells” course for majors. He was forming a team of enthusiasts with an age span of 20 years (I was 25!) and a wide variety of experiences, including Dr. Bettina Harrison, a mother of 3, who had (at the age of 45) just completed her PhD at Boston University in the field of cytology and electron microscopy. We also had a botanist and a microbiologist – all eager to share their expertise and life experience, to develop the most fun and serious course one could imagine (Herb Lipke, Bettina Harrison, Stuart Bradford, Stan Robrish and me).

That first year, while planning for the Cells course, I assisted with “Biology of Organisms,” a sophomore level course, memorably led by Dr. Ruth Bennet. I ran a lab and probably learned more from the students than they learned from me. In one memorable episode, I was attracted by an energetic discussion between two lab mates in the middle of a squid dissection. The subject? Whether squid ink should (or not) be used in the cooking for a pasta sauce.

During the summer of ’68, Cells faculty were told to “get a grant and leave the building,” so that our research labs could be constructed in the Gas Company building. Thanks to an NSF grant, I took the Marine Invertebrate Embryology course at Stanford University (in Pacific Grove, CA). I was welcomed to introduce biochem methods to what had been a very empirical area of study. It was a life-changing introduction to a esthetically amazing and fascinating area of research and teaching. During that summer, I also recruited Dr. Edna Seaman to join the Biology of Cells faculty (she replaced Stan Robrish, who had other commitments). Dr. Seaman, a long-term researcher from Brandeis, brought in microbiology from the emerging molecular biology side, filling out the rich spectrum of expertise for the emerging course.

The founding principles for the new “Cells” course were novel and we felt lucky to get approval from the University for our plan:

  • Team taught, to cover the span of topics and equipment appropriate to the subject and at the forefront of science
  • 5 Lab blocks (36 hours each- two 3hr labs/week for 6 weeks), from which students would select one per quarter, each developed, prepped and taught by expert in their field (molecular biology, enzyme kinetics, nutrition and physiology, botany and cytology/microscopy). [Note: student equipment doubled for faculty research, so students were taught proper “care and feeding” of these valuable resources.]
  • Faculty member would each offer their lab track for three quarters, leaving one quarter for research.
  • Lectures would be assigned by expertise, where possible. [Note: for the first two years, we had no up-to-date undergraduate texts for the materials we were teaching. We pulled from our recent graduate/professional experiences to develop up-to-date lectures and teaching materials.]
  • Faculty research would relate to/enrich teaching labs.
  • Faculty would mentor Honors students and employ students as lab assistants.
  • Graduating students could qualify for the best University education or lab-tech positions in the Boston area.

The evolution of the Cells course was an exhilarating experience and subsequent feedback over the years has been wonderful. Several years after I had left UMass to join industry, I returned for a Bio Department Symposium at which Department alums presented their post-UMB research.  One former student presented compelling work related to the developing HIV crisis.  I laughingly reminded him of the  “squid ink” incident and congratulated him on his current presentation.  He smiled and asked: “What did you expect? You told me I could do anything I set my mind to…”  This is probably a story told many times at UMB, but it never gets old.

Another course, The Nantucket Field Biology Course was a “projects” course, first taught by Wes Tiffney (a genuine “field biologist” and me (a definite “newbie” to such a program), which lasted 6 weeks and was geared toward building a “baseline of Island characteristics/data” in several areas. Wes Tiffney and I applied to start the Field Biology Course at the Field Station (application started March 1968 after a student-faculty field trip to the Island). The course approval process was facilitated by Dr. Kaplan, resulting in the first offering that summer, to about 6 students. Course was “in residence”, 6 weeks, $600, 6 credits, room and board included. Students had to define projects and procure reference materials ahead of time and with coaching, they ran the course, based upon their own research and literature findings.

Among the projects I remember:

  • birds (Timothy Crowe’s study of the then-resident guinea fowl, which led to a lifetime career on the subject. He became professor in South Africa and can be googled – fun story!)
  • algae/seaweed (Nina Perlmutter- worked with Wes and presented her professionally prepared collection to the Mariah Mitchell Society, not sure where it is now)
  • salt marsh meanderings (Steve Davis, preparing for a career in the US Coast Guard)
  • marine invertebrate embryos ripe for study in the summer (Cheryl Connors, based upon my learnings from the course I took in marine Invertebrate Embryology, on NSF teacher grant, summer of ’67. Cheryl and I searched the jettys, the Bay and tide pools to find gravid invertebrate species and follow development of fertilized eggs).

Another one-time but memorable activity was the catch of salt marsh eels by students, for dinner, courtesy of tutelage from resident caretaker and shellfish farmer Clint Andrews.

One Comment

on “Martha Matteo, Faculty
One Comment on “Martha Matteo, Faculty
  1. I arrived at UMB IN the “ happy times “ at park squre in1969 on a P and B bus from plymouth . I remember Dr Harrison, and most certainly Dr Edna Seamon. Dr. seamom wrote a question regarding fractionation of either proteins or perhaps DNA with centrifugation on a cesium gradient. In the stem of the question , she left out a key enzyme, which would stall the process at its inception. The question regarded what % of this and that would be recovered at the end of this process . The blue books were in play. I noticed the key ingredient was missing, wrote 50 – 50 and left the exam with a queasy feeling. Dr Seamon put a beautiful note on my returned exam congratulating me and I never forgot her . The Cell course at U Mass was extraordinary, as were the great faculty , infact I am in awe and I have an abiding respect for the entire faculty at “
    “ the gas works, the Sawyer building, the armory, etc. One person , my absolute favorite person in the biology, and stalwart of the cell biology dept at UMB was Dr. Stan Krane..Stan the Great. My favorite instructor of all time

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