Undergraduate Science Education Grants to Research Universities (2014)

Yale University

Since we know that most college students who do not persist in the sciences leave in the first two years, Yale's program will focus on the early experiences of entering biosciences students. Our activities will include a summer bridge program, core introductory bioscience courses, and new research-based courses for first and second year students.

The students who struggle in introductory physical science courses typically lack strong quantitative reasoning skills (QR). We will provide bridge QR support for freshmen entering the sciences or quantitative disciplines. Students in Yale's summer bridge program and other entering freshmen whose calculus placement scores indicate that they are at risk will take an assessment using ALEKS, an online platform that uses adaptive questioning to determine quantitative preparation. Following this assessment, each student will meet with a member of Yale's Science and QR Center to prepare tailored programs for quantitative skills development.

The three basic bioscience departments at Yale have joined together to produce a new series of four foundation courses designed with the scientific teaching approach. The guiding principles for crafting these courses were delineated in the HHMI/AAMC report, which emphasizes critical thinking, problem solving, and interpretation of data rather than a recitation of facts.

To deal with differences in student preparation, the courses offer two types of enrichment sections. The first is designed to ensure that the students who are least prepared are given extra support, while the latter offers the best-prepared students the opportunity to be challenged with material that goes beyond the course coverage.

Our course assessments, which will be conducted in collaboration with Yale's Center for Scientific Teaching, include three main questions: what students learned in the course, including higher order science process and reasoning skills; the impact of the course on their interest in science; and impact of the course as measured by choice of majors. Instructors give a pre-test, in the form of placement exams, before entry into each of the four courses. These can be compared to post-tests given at the end of each course. The post-tests include some of the same questions as the pre-tests.

Program Director Paul Turner will offer a course primarily for freshmen to introduce them to fundamentals of lab research using bacteria and the phages that infect them. Students will gain experience with fieldwork by isolating phages from various natural locations. They will characterize these phages by sequencing DNA or RNA genomes; examining their host range (growth challenges on a battery of culturable bacteria), and visualizing virus structure using electron microscopy. The students will conduct independent research projects of experimental evolution of their phages under environmental challenges. These studies will include research on phenotype-genotype associations, and assays to determine how phage traits and genomes change as phages adapt in new habitats. Student ownership of projects will be encouraged as each student chooses a specific bacteriophage, bacteria host, and environmental challenge for study.

In later years we will develop additional discovery-based courses. Two that are in early stages of development include HHMI Investigator Ronald Breaker's course in which students use in vitro evolution of nucleic acids to create new enzymatic activities and regulatory modules. Another course is being developed by Farren Isaacs in which students use synthetic biology to endow engineered organisms with a range of new capabilities.

Through these new original research-based courses, expanded versions of the ones that have already been launched, and an enhanced summer research program to follow the freshman year, Yale aspires to make the opportunity for engagement in original research a part of the early college experience for all STEM students.

For More Information

Paul Turner, Ph.D.
Yale University
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
OML 301A PO Box 208106
New Haven, CT 6520
203/432-5918
paul.turner@yale.edu

Awardees

View a list of current and past awardees.

Search awards