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Think and Do The Extraordinary
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Erin McKenney

Assistant Professor

Director – Undergraduate Programs

DCL 126



Ph.D., Duke University
M.S., North Carolina State University


Research Interests

I cultivate critical thinking through active learning. Students are not limited by access to content; I focus, instead, on practicing current techniques to collect and analyze novel datasets. By designing my courses around authentic research experiences, I encourage student autonomy and foster practicing scientists.  Across my courses, I implement inclusive teaching approaches rooted in SOTL research. I aim to dispel the various stereotype threats surrounding (and amplified by) the “ivory tower” and to empower students (including the general public) with scientific understanding, toward science literacy and belonging. My “broader impacts and outreach” include scholarly efforts to build reciprocal, collaborative, long-lasting partnerships with students as well as the public.

In addition to education, I study how microbial communities form over time and how they adapt to their environments. My research incorporates microbial ecology, nutrition, and comparative gut morphology to learn how gut microbes affect health – and how humans can leverage or upset that balance. For over a decade I have investigated evolutionary adaptation across scales and species, between non-human primates and carnivores and their gut microbes. More recently, I’ve expanded my research to sourdough and other fermented foods that can be studied without laboratory equipment, using citizen science research to empower students of all ages and all over the world.



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