Perspectives Online

College Profile - Outstanding teacher and microbiologist Dr. Gerry Luginbuhl has undertaken a new leadership role in the College’s 
Academic Programs.  By Suzanne Stanard

Dr. Gerry Luginbuhl Photo by Becky Kirkland

In more than three decades as a faculty member in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Dr. Gerry Luginbuhl has experienced a lot of change.

For starters, she’s no longer the “lone female” among her colleagues in the Department of Microbiology. She also discovered over the years that, while she enjoys research, her real passion is teaching. And lately, she’s observed an increasing number of students interested in pursuing life sciences degrees.

As assistant director of CALS Academic Programs, Luginbuhl will oversee new life sciences curriculum initiatives and lead the Jefferson Scholars dual-degree program.
Photo by Becky Kirkland
“The life sciences have grown tremendously,” Luginbuhl says. “I think there used to be the feeling that life sciences were sort of an add-on, but I think now they’re considered to be an equal partner and a driving force in the College, in terms of undergraduate academics.”

Nurturing this growth in life sciences programming will be the main focus of Luginbuhl’s new job as assistant director of Academic Programs in the College.

She came to N.C. State as an assistant professor in 1974, after post-doctoral work at Duke University. Luginbuhl earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in bacteriology and immunology from UNC-Chapel Hill.

A microbiologist whose research focused on a respiratory pathogen in turkeys, Luginbuhl climbed the ranks at N.C. State to become professor, then interim head of the Department of Microbiology. She was elected to the University Academy of Outstanding Teachers in 1979 and was recognized as the Alumni Distinguished Professor of Undergraduate Teaching in 1990. She also received the College’s Outstanding Faculty Award in 2003.

A big believer in hands-on learning, Luginbuhl has a strong track record of developing and teaching courses that require critical thinking, including an undergraduate medical microbiology course and a freshman orientation course for microbiology majors.

“Students appreciate that they can go out and use the information they learn in class,” she says. “That’s the reason that I became less of a ‘dump-the-facts-on-them’ and more of a ‘learn-how-to-find-it-for-yourself’ kind of teacher.”

While Luginbuhl will always call the Department of Microbiology home, she says, she switched gears in July to tackle what she considers “an exciting new opportunity.”

“At this point in my career, I wanted a new challenge and an opportunity to see things going on at the university from a different perspective,” she says. “At the college level, you get to see the bigger picture and work on things that impact a lot more students.”

New undergraduate curriculum initiatives are under consideration in the life sciences. “I think there’s going to be greater definition, for example, in what is a biology major,” Luginbuhl says. “That’s because of the faculty in these programs and the ideas they have and the work they’re doing in curriculum development. I think we’ll see that come to fruition in the next year or two, in the form of attractive options for undergraduates to tailor their major coursework to suit their long-range goals in, for example, the health sciences.”

A Department of Microbiology professor, Luginbuhl (teaching at right) is a member of the University Academy of Outstanding Teachers and recipient of the College’s Outstanding Faculty Award.
Photo by Becky Kirkland
The college has a strong reputation for preparing students for the health professions. The recent addition of the innovative Health Professions Advising Center (Health PAC), Luginbuhl says, has further enhanced health profession advising. As a result, student interest in new areas, such as nursing and sports medicine, is on the rise.

“I hope ultimately that our College will develop an even stronger reputation in the health sciences as a place for excellence in preparing students who want to go into any of the many health professions out there,” she adds. “It’s one of the important needs of the state, to have people trained in all areas of the health professions, and it’s our goal to help fill that need.

“We have some incredibly talented students, many who don’t necessarily want to become doctors, but want to get into professions that give them patient contact,” she says. “It makes sense for our College to offer these programs to stay true to our mission and build on our strengths.”

'It’s one of the important needs of the state, to have people trained in all areas of the health professions, and it’s our goal to help fill that need.' While most of this new curriculum development will take place at the undergraduate level, Luginbuhl says that developing more graduate/professional programs is also under consideration. “It will be very exciting to offer students further professional education right here at N.C. State,” she adds.

Luginbuhl makes clear that while there’s new momentum in the life sciences, agricultural programs also will be a focus.

“There are some exciting new programs and existing programs in the traditional agricultural sciences,” she says. “While we work to expand the life sciences, we’re also committed to continuing excellence in the agricultural sciences.”

Also part of her new position is leadership of the Jefferson Scholars, a dual-degree program for students pursuing majors in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

There are about 25 Jefferson Scholars who have designed unique degree combinations, such as horticultural science and political science, or communication with biochemistry. They meet regularly, participate in service projects and travel to areas of political or historical interest at least once a year.

“These are excellent students,” she says. “Having to double major in such different areas of study is quite a stretch. Students interested in that kind of challenge are very interesting, and they have to maintain an excellent academic record.” Luginbuhl wants to enhance scholarships available to the Jefferson Scholars.

Also, as a member of the College’s International Programs Advisory Committee, she is very interested in expanding undergraduates’ international experience opportunities.

“Given today’s expenses in college, we would like to offer students more scholarships for international experiences,” she says. “There are other ways besides study abroad for students to have an international experience, such as alternative spring break and faculty-led courses abroad.”

On top of her administrative duties, Luginbuhl will still be able to spend time where she loves it most: in the classroom. She taught two sections of the College’s new freshman orientation class in the fall and an honors seminar this spring.

“I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I took on this new position,” she says. “It’s been a wonderful experience.”