Oh great, thought Janine Trempy, a professor of microbiology at Oregon State, as one of her students took a seat, unannounced, in her office two years ago. This guy probably wants to argue about his grade.
The guy was Calvin Carlyle, then a sophomore strong safety for the Beavers. A liberal studies major, he'd just completed Trempy's popular course, Microbiology 390: The World According to Microbes. He hadn't dropped by to gripe about his grade. He'd come to tell Trempy how much he'd enjoyed the course and to ask if she had any independent research projects for him. "This was in December 1999," says Trempy. "I told him, 'Go play in your bowl game, or whatever it is you do, and come see me in January.' "
After making eight tackles and intercepting a pass in Oregon State's 23-17 loss to Hawaii in the Oahu Bowl and then undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder, Carlyle showed up in Trempy's office in January with his arm in a sling. "I set him up with a little project," Trempy says. "I taught him lab skills: how to work with microscopes and the computers attached to them, how to work with bacteria without killing himself. He was a natural. There wasn't a single thing I threw at him that he didn't get on the first go-round."
The same can be said for Carlyle, now a senior, on the football field. He started 10 games for the Beavers last fall and was second among their defensive backs in tackles with 49. This year he is one of the top cover safeties in the Pac-10 and leads Oregon State (1-1) with 13 tackles. "He's a little undersized for the position," says secondary coach Al Simmons of the six-foot, 185-pound Carlyle, "but he's extremely intelligent."
Carlyle's football savvy and skills are only part of what makes him remarkable. So smitten was he with life in the laboratory that two summers ago he earned an undergraduate research fellowship from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute—the first nonscience major at Oregon State to do so. His project involved collecting bacteria in Corvallis and testing it to see if it was resistant to antibacterial soap. "Finding the bacteria, then reading about it, learning about its properties and what it can cause in humans was interesting," says Carlyle. Last summer he earned another summer research fellowship for an on-campus project entitled The Correlation of Toxicity, Antibiotic Resistance and Resistance to Antibacterial Soaps in Natural Bacterial Isolates.
Trempy doesn't take credit for sparking Carlyle's interest in science. "He already had it," she says. Indeed, Calvin's father, Valdo, bought him a microscope at Toys "R" Us when Calvin was 11, and the boy spent hours in his room peering into the instrument. "I loved it," he says.
As a football star at Dorsey High in Los Angeles he lost his passion for science only to rediscover it in college. After struggling academically as a freshman, he mentioned his partiality to science to his academic adviser, and she encouraged him to enroll in Trempy's class, which is open to nonscience majors. Microbiology 390 is normally reserved for juniors and seniors, but Carlyle went to Trempy "and talked his way in," she says.
Two years later Carlyle is a teaching assistant in that course. (He has also taken several other biology courses.) He's also designing and conducting experiments as part of an Oregon State team of scientists and engineers who are, in Trempy's words, "identifying toxin-producing bacteria that may be used in biological warfare."
After that, staring down a five-receiver set on third down doesn't seem quite so scary.