Booting Up for Success

Jessica Poulin

Professor Jessica Poulin addresses the audience during the Undergraduate Morning Commencement Ceremony, May 21, 2017 (Photo: Doug Levere)

By ELIN HAWKINSON

Published January 2018

When she learned she’d been chosen faculty speaker, Jessica Poulin was stunned:  

"As a professor, you don’t always realize how many lives you touch. My students are my constituency, and to receive their approval—at this grassroots level—is jaw-dropping. I think this could be the greatest honor I ever receive.” 

Poulin immediately returned the admiration in kind, delivering a heartfelt commencement speech in celebration of student achievement. “We graduate a lot of talented people and 2017 was no exception,” she says. “That day was about them, not me.” 

To those who know her, the nomination came as no surprise. Poulin’s unique brand of mentorship begins even before the first class of freshman year. For the past six summers, Poulin and Emeritus Professor Chuck Fourtner have led incoming students in an intense three-day “Bio Boot Camp.” Expectations are high and the workload heavy, but, as Poulin notes, "It’s exactly the wake-up call some students need to lay the groundwork for future success."

There’s hard data to support this success (Boot Camp participants average a full letter grade higher in Bio 200 than their peers), but more striking than statistics, Poulin believes, is the obvious confidence boost students display when they return to campus in the fall. One reason? Boot Camp isn’t all lab coats and microscopes. Poulin weaves life skills into every lesson, such as time management, how to use resources effectively and the importance of growing from mistakes. 

What's the verdict on last summer’s Boot Camp? “At the end, the students just seemed really happy,” Poulin says. “They did a fantastic job.” 

Another way Poulin demonstrates her commitment to students is as faculty advisor for Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE), a collaboration between the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. In this position, Poulin interacts with some of UB’s brightest female scientists-to-be, and she knows how crucial it is that these gifted minds eventually enter the workforce. 

“WiSE is vitally important because it reinforces for women that there’s a home for them in STEM,” says Poulin. “It’s about more than inclusivity. The outcome is genuinely better when different people, with different perspectives, work together.”

Not all of Poulin’s students, whether they’re Boot Camp graduates, WiSE women or even Honors Bio mentees, pursue careers in life sciences research, but—according to Poulin—this too is a sign of success. 

“More than anything, I want students to understand they have choices,” Poulin says. “Choice is powerful.”  

Professor Poulin has become an invaluable, and one might say, essential, member of our faculty. Her contributions to our undergraduate program are almost too numerous to list and I can state unequivocally that the recent success of our undergraduate program would not have occurred without Prof. Poulin’s contributions. 
–Gerald Koudelka, PhD, professor and former chair of Biological Sciences 

Lance Rintamaki

You don't have to be faculty to get involved! Visit wise.buffalo.edu for alumni volunteer opportunities with the WiSE program.  

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