A central feature of the national initiative to transform undergraduate STEM education is that students, including non-majors, have authentic research experiences early and then throughout their college years. Authentic research is defined as having these components: development of student-generated research questions whose answers are currently unknown; longitudinal focus on one set of research questions over the length of the course; implementation of experimental designs that are not predetermined; collaboration among peers; and presentation by students of results and ideas for future research. Our award addresses these goals via a program entitled Freshman Research Immersion (FRI) that will substantially increase the number of freshmen participating in authentic research. We plan to establish 10 research streams, with about 30 students per stream working on a research project for course credit in the freshmen spring and sophomore fall. By year 5, we plan to have 300+ students per year in the FRI program. The first three streams will be Biofilms (identifying biofilm-related virulence factors by using microbiological, molecular and biochemical methodologies), Neuroscience (focusing on the intersection between neuro-inflammation and neuro-degeneration in animal models of disease) and Smart Energy (a materials science and engineering effort that focuses on generation and storage of sustainable or renewable energy). Subsequent research streams will be in biochemistry, molecular anthropology, image-and-acoustic-signals-analysis (computer science, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering), biomedical engineering, genetics, biogeochemistry, and nanotechnology. Faculty teams of 3-5 faculty will design the research streams. Freshmen will take a Research Methods course in the fall semester, participate in the open house events of the research streams, rank their preferences and are assigned to a stream for the spring semester. The first half of the spring semester, students will learn techniques and background on the research problem; by the second half, they will begin their research project. In the fall of sophomore year, they will have an entire second semester of their research stream, ending with a public poster session. Throughout, students will receive course credit toward their degree. Each stream will have a dedicated lab equipped for the stream research, and a research educator (a research assistant professor) who oversees the FRI students, graduate teaching assistant and undergraduate peer mentors. The research educators, graduate teaching assistants and undergraduate peer mentors will be trained for the FRI program. Training includes sessions on goals of program for authentic research experience for undergraduates, managing the mentor-mentee relationship, ethical decision-making for responsible conduct of research, and how to conduct interdisciplinary research (and avoid pitfalls). Importantly, each research stream will generate spinoff modules to be infused into other STEM courses, especially gateway courses. A sustainability plan will be instituted at the project outset to ensure continuation of this university-wide initiative for FRI after the grant period. An Internal Advisory Committee, chaired by the Provost and faculty members representing engineering, life sciences and physical sciences, will meet twice a year with BU-HHMI steering committee to oversee progress on all aspects of the grant and this university-wide initiative.

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Nancy Stamp, Ph.D.
State University of New York at Binghamton
Department of Biological Sciences

Binghamton, NY 13902-6000


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