December 8, 2006

Biology’s best

Freshman professor gains national honor


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Mary Beth Voltura’s “Principles of Biology” class was among seven of 149 courses reviewed to be selected as best practice courses by a panel of experts working for a national college board. Above, Voltura reviews for a final on Tuesday morning.

Staff Reporter

Mary Beth Voltura Hardesty’s biology class at SUNY Cortland has received national recognition as being one of the best in the country.
The assistant professor’s Principles of Biology class was selected as one of seven overall best practices courses in biology by a panel of national experts from among 149 courses nationwide.
Content, use of new technology, student expectations and assessment were some of the course elements reviewed for the recognition.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” Voltura, 41, who uses her maiden name professionally, said about the recognition. “I like the class a lot so it was nice to be told I was doing a good job.”
The Center for Educational Policy Research, affiliated with the University of Oregon in Eugene, asked her to send in class lecture material, syllabi, assignments and tests in addition to filling out an extensive survey.
The research center is studying college math and science courses throughout the nation.
The research was done for the College Board, the nonprofit group that runs the Advanced Placement program, which allows high school students to take college-level courses and to earn credit for introductory college courses if they pass AP exams.
Voltura said she did not receive detailed feedback from the reviewers about why her class was selected, but understood the goal of the project was to look at college classes that would set a standard for what a high school AP course should be like. The results will help redesign the AP exam given to high school students.
The study was undertaken because many colleges are deciding not to grant credit for Advanced Placement courses because they were not considered on par with introductory college classes, said Odile Stout, the research team leader for the project at the CEPR.
Louis Gatto, chair of the college’s Biological Sciences Department, said the CEPR requested course material from faculty who taught introductory biology and two faculty members’ names were forwarded to them. “We weren’t competing for an award,” said Gatto. He said the college was merely cooperating with the study being undertaken.
“They decided this one course is top notch in the country,” said Gatto. He said he has never known of a similar recognition in the nearly 30 years he has taught at the college. “This is an achievement that is once in a lifetime. We are very proud of this.”
Voltura, who specializes in the physiological ecology of small mammals, said her course is designed for non-biological science majors at the college. She said she concentrates on species diversity, evolution and genetics.
Voltura teaches three sections of the course with about 100 students in each section. She said she uses PowerPoint to project slides for these large classes as well as her smaller classes.
“I can show them lots of diagrams and pictures,” she said about using the PowerPoint format. She also encourages students to use clickers — a handheld device that registers answers to multiple-choice questions — as a way to get students to participate.
Answers are displayed on a projector screen on a bar graph, showing the percent of correct answers for each question. Tuesday she started the class with some review questions on genetics.
Voltura said one of the most important things she does with her classes is “to show them how biology relates to real life — health or current events.” Some topics she has discussed are cloning, stem cell research and bird flu.
Voltura said in student evaluations, her students most often write that she is an enthusiastic teacher and she helps them understand difficult material.
“I hated biology through high school,” said Rylan Borror, a sophomore physical education major.
“I enjoy it more than the high school experience,” he said of Voltura’s class. “She explains everything better. I understand the material.”
“She was a good teacher,” Lauren Holzmacher, a senior sociology major, said during the last week of classes. “The tests were fair,” she added, noting that everything on tests was covered in class. “There were no surprises.”
Final exams for the class are Monday and Tuesday.
Voltura, who lives in Cortlandville, has taught at the college since fall 2000. She said her only previous teaching experience was as an adjunct at the University of Maryland and as a graduate assistant while studying at Colorado State University, where she received both her master’s and doctoral degrees. Born in Batavia, she earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Notre Dame.
Voltura has written or co-authored journal articles and recently co-authored a chapter for the second edition of the book, “Ecological and Behavioral Methods for the Study of Bats,” which will be published next year by Smithsonian Institution Press.



Panel backs plan for home health agencies

County opposes plan to certify Cortland Regional Medical Center and St. Joseph’s

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Despite vocal opposition from county officials, a state review board Thursday backed requests from two area hospitals to become certified home health agencies in the county.
The state Hospital Review and Planning Committee recommended certifying Cortland Regional Medical Center and St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center, located in Syracuse, as CHHAs for Cortland County, according to County Administrator Scott Schrader, who traveled to Albany to oppose the certifications.
Schrader and Jackie Gailor, director of the county Health Department, both say that certifying the two hospitals to provide home health services could jeopardize the Health Department’s CHHA, which, even as the county’s lone CHHA, loses money annually.
If the county CHHA were forced to disband, the county’s emergency response capabilities would be weakened, as its CHHA nurses— who are equipped to respond to health needs throughout the community — are an integral part of emergency response.
“They ignored that completely,” Schrader said of the committee’s response at the meeting. “I’d characterize it as the typical shortsightedness of the state — they expect us to respond to emergencies, but they don’t give us any ability to do that.”
A certified home health agency provides home health care for patients who are released from the hospital but still require care.
Currently the county serves 80 people who are in need of a CHHA. It has the equivalent of nine full-time nurses devoted to home care, and is actively trying to hire three or four more, according deputy director M.J. Uttech.
The county CHHA takes referrals from health clinics — about 80 percent come from CRMC — and the county is concerned that if the two hospitals became CHHAs, a majority of those referrals would wind up in their programs.
The county lost about $81,000 in 2005 and $28,000 in 2004 on the program, but that loss is acceptable considering the service provided, county officials say.
However, when the county closes its books on 2006, the years’ loss could be $300,000 to $400,000. That’s because the county had to turn down many referrals in the first half the year when it had a nursing shortage. County officials fear such losses could become commonplace with two new CHAAs accepting referrals.
Both Schrader and Gailor were frustrated by the committee’s response to this argument Thursday.
“I’m pretty sure it’s fait accompli that the (state) Department of Health is going to grant this,” Schrader said Thursday. “They gave every impression today that no matter what we said they were going to give them the certification.”
Gailor said this morning that, by the time she got up to speak briefly on behalf of the county CHAA, the board did not seem interested.
“At that point, I don’t feel they were listening to us at all,” Gailor said. “They were listening to state Department of Health who said this should be done.”




City officer accused of DWI fatality resigns from department

Staff Reporter

In the wake of the death of one of two women he struck with his car, officials said this morning that Jeffrey “Chip” Stockton resigned from the Cortland City Police Department.
City police said this morning that Police Chief James Nicholas officially accepted Stockton’s resignation today. Officials said Stockton, a seven-year veteran of the police force, submitted a letter notifying the department on Wednesday.
Police said Stockton, 38, of 16 Frank St., Cortland, was arrested Nov. 17 after he hit two pedestrians with his vehicle while he was off duty.
On Saturday, Lyn Briggs, 55, of 65 Central Ave., Apt 10, died at University Hospital in Syracuse from injuries suffered as a result of the accident. Melody Benn, 55, of 65 Central Ave., Apt. 10, was also injured and but was released from the same hospital on Nov. 20.
After the crash, Stockton was charged with second-degree vehicular assault, a felony, driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor, and failure to exercise due care, a traffic violation.
As of this morning, Lt. Jon Gesin, of the city police, said District Attorney David Hartnett had not amended those charges. Hartnett refused to comment on the case Monday, saying through his secretary, that it is a pending investigation.
According to court documents, Stockton told other officers the night of the arrest that he had been drinking prior to the accident and that at the time he hit the women, he was text messaging on his cell phone.
Stockton’s attorney, Mark Suben, would not comment this morning.
Stockton is due in City Court on Dec. 20.



Proposal equalizes election commissioners' pay

Staff Reporter

Cortland County’s election commissioners should soon be receiving identical paychecks, putting the county in line with a state law that for years has apparently been overlooked.
The Personnel Committee on Thursday decided on a set salary of $26,384 for Republican Commissioner Bob Howe and Democratic Commissioner Bill Wood, eliminating any sort of longevity pay for both commissioners.
This represents, in essence, a 3 percent raise for Wood, who was slated to be paid $25,616 in 2006, his first year on the job, and an approximately $3,000 cut for Howe, who, with almost a decade of experience with the county, was scheduled to make $29,967.
A local law establishing the new salaries will go before the full Legislature on Dec. 21, along with a resolution removing the election commissioners from the management compensation plan, which was set up in 2005 to provide standardized pay increases for county management employees.
Howe, who informed the Legislature last week that the county was not in compliance with state law due to his and Woods’ disproportionate pay, said he was satisfied with the committee’s decision.
“Our salaries had to be equalized, and I’ve said before that if I have to make an adjustment, I’ll do that,” Howe said, noting that, had the commissioners’ salaries remained in the management compensation plan, he would have been scheduled to receive another pay bump at the end of this year. “According to the law, our salaries should be equal, and the Legislature did what they had to do.”
County Auditor Dennis Whitt, who reviewed past salary records, told the committee the pay between the two commissioner positions has never been equal.
“I wasn’t able to find any particular year where they got the same salary,” Whitt said, noting that prior to the passing of the management comp plan in 2005, commissioners still received additional income based on longevity with the county.
County Attorney Ric Van Donsel added that even a small stipend based on longevity violated state election laws.
“The courts have ruled that longevity pay is pay, and if being in the management plan creates a situation where one election commissioner makes more, they don’t belong in that plan,” Van Donsel said.

The committee hemmed and hawed over how to settle on an acceptable salary before ultimately deciding to use the base salary from the management comp plan, $25,616, and adding an additional 3 percent raise based on a cost of living increase being given to all county management positions this year.