Friday, October 30, 2015

[186] Conquering obstacles: MTSU freshman Honors biology class grows through teamwork

MURFREESBORO — Ryan Otter stands at the forefront of innovation in all aspects of the university experience for students taking his biology classes.

Upon hearing about an opportunity for MTSU faculty and students to participate in an outdoor obstacle course on campus, the associate professor knew it was just the thing for his freshman Honors biology class.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jackie McDowell made the offer for anyone to visit the ROTC 60-foot-tall rappelling tower and new six-station obstacle course between Campus Recreation Center and Greek Row Oct. 21.

To view video from the event, visit

Several faculty and administrators bit at the chance. So did Otter and his more-than-receptive class of 17- and 18-year-olds.

“So I wanted to bring my students out here to learn some skills in adaptive learning, problem-solving, strategy-planning,” said Otter. “That’s Science 101. Basic biology is learning how you methodically solve the problem.”

“Well that can be in a laboratory. It also can be out in a field course like this,” Otter added. “The skill of how to learn properly is not just done in a classroom and not done on a PowerPoint screen. It’s got to be done in the field and I figure this is a great example.”

Brennan Demarest, a freshman from Smyrna, Tennessee, was among the 20 students tackling the obstacles, which included climbing, crawling, leaping, one blindfolded and more — in a competitive, two-hour session with McDowell timing the various teams. 

“It has been arduous,” said Demarest, slightly out of breath and speaking in between obstacles. “It was good team working with the people in my class. It was good to get (compete) against other teams in the class as well. Overall, though, it was a lot of work.”

One of the reasons Otter chose to get his class involved was because he has taught a number of ROTC cadets.

“They have skillsets that I’ve noticed that have excelled really, really well in science,” he said. “I know the course has been here. So when the opportunity came to run the course, I put two-and-two together. It was an easy solution for me.”

“(The) ROTC program here has been fantastic for setting things up for us, helping us run the course and really training students on how to solve a problem without telling them how to do it,” he added.

Biology and military science are two of 11 departments in the College of Basic and Applied Science. For more information about these and other programs and departments, visit or call 615-898-2613.

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