Students’ Resilience in Science

A perseverant and resilient disposition is recognized as a hallmark of successful research scientists across disciplines. This is especially true in the disciplines of ecology and evolutionary biology where potential for unforeseen challenges and struggles is high and multiple layers of uncertainty and ambiguity make data collection and interpretation difficult. Our lab aims to investigate the processes through which biology students develop into perseverant and resilient scientists. Specifically, we aim to characterize how students react to "failures" and struggles in the laboratory and what we can do as educators to facilitate more productive responses to such challenges. This work involves two ongoing projects

  • This is a collaboration with Joe Harsh at James Madison University. We aim to characterize the different kinds of coping strategies students use when responding to failures and challenges in course-based research experiences. Due to the novelty of research questions in such classes, students who experience challenges and failures cannot simply “google” the answer or ask a student from last year to help them out when encountering a challenge. They must work through such problems without such a safety net, often resulting in increased challenge and occasional task failure. This closely approximates what scientists experience in research careers! Students respond to such obstacles with a variety of coping mechanisms including those likely to be adaptive (e.g., planning and problem solving) and maladaptive (e.g., avoiding the situation). This project characterizes typical coping responses of students in a CURE. We will use this information to investigate coping patterns among students of different demographics and relationships of different coping strategies with student success.
  • This is a collaboration with Jen Heemstra of Emory, Lou Charcoudian of Haverford College and postdocs Meredith Henry and Shayla Shorter of Emory in addition to the other members of Failure as a Part of Learning: A Mindset Education Network (FLAMEnet). This project brings together instructors, education researchers and psychologists from across a variety of different education contexts to design, implement and test Mindset interventions in STEM classrooms. The explicit aim of these interventions is to increase students’ ability to adaptively cope with failure  and decrease their fear of failure when approaching new challenges. Funding is provided in part by NSF Research Coordination Networks for Undergraduate Biology Education. Grant #

Students’ Creativity in Biology 

Creative problem solving that allows for the generation of multiple innovative solutions to a problem is highly valued in today's society. This is especially true in fields at the nexus of biology, land management, and engineering such as restoration ecology and biomedical engineering. A hallmark of creativity is the ability to generate multiple possible solutions to a problem and explore diverse possibilities when answering a question or addressing a challenge. However, this is rarely a focus of traditional instruction, which tends to ask students to converge on a single correct answer. Our lab leverages different forms of instruction that arise from engineering and design disciplines in order to investigate how we can increase biology students' ability to generate multiple, original, diverse ideas to a problem - to think divergently - in order to improve their creativity in addressing complex biology problems. This work involves one ongoing project

  • This work is led by RE3ACH graduate student Erin Fried and is a collaboration with Andrew Martin in the EBIO department at CU Boulder. This work seeks to understand how a design practice at the nexus of human design and biological design, biomimicry, can be leveraged to help students better understand principles in Evolution and to increase their ability to think about multiple possible solutions to complex questions or problems (divergent thinking). Biomimicry is the reconnection to and emulation of nature’s forms, processes and systems to create sustainable, life-enhancing human design solutions. It draws upon the ethos of sustainability and principles of design thinking to generate innovative high-quality products, processes, and structures that fit into our natural systems. Funding is provided in part by the Center for STEM Learning’s Chancellor’s Graduate Award.


Students Biology Interests and Career Goals in Relation to Persistence in Biology

Holding both disciplinary interests and specific career goals is predicted by multiple theories of student motivation to increase students’ persistence in a discipline and their overall well-being in pursuit of learning within that discipline. Specifically, having individual, well-developed interests and specific long-term career goals is most beneficial, as these increase the intentionality with which students choose to pursue short-term tasks in support of their goals and their perseverance in the face of challenge. However, it is likely that students from different backgrounds may experience inequities before entering college that result in differential opportunities to develop strong interests or specific career goals. This is problematic, as it may lead to attrition from STEM for students with less developed interests. Our lab seeks to understand when and how students develop interests and career goals in biology and how holding different levels of biology interest or various career goals might influence students’ trajectory through college. This work involves one ongoing project.

  • This project is a collaboration with Sarah Eddy at Florida International University. This project uses social cognitive career theory and expectancy value theory to evaluate how the strength of students' interest in biology and the clarity of their career goals throughout their studies influence their choices to engage in critical disciplinary experiences throughout college. Critical disciplinary experiences are those experiences which allow students to access additional education or next steps in competitive career paths after college. This work involves two components. The retrospective qualitative approach, led by RE3ACH postdoc Ashley Rowland in collaboration with Lisa Corwin, will use qualitative analysis of up to 60 interviews with students to characterize their paths through college. The prospective longitudinal approach, led by Sarah Eddy and postdoc Julie Charbonnier, will collect survey data from numerous students throughout their undergraduate careers in an effort to track how their interests and goals change throughout their undergraduate tenure. Together, these studies will provide evidence on 1) how early and how often students who matriculate to medical and graduate school access critical experiences, 2) whether disciplinary interest and career goal development impact pursuit of critical experiences and maintenance of biology career goals, and 3) whether students from historically underserved groups are less likely to enter college with developed biology interests and/or career goals. Funding provided by the NSF Improving Undergraduate Education Program. Grant # 1712160.


Students’ Civic Engagement and Efficacy Resulting from Course-based Undergraduate Research

Civic engagement describes how active citizens participate in the life of a community in order to improve conditions for others or help shape the community’s future. Civic engagement not only enhances skills needed for effective leadership, social change, and development of social responsibility, it also contributes to social cohesion between cultural and ethnic groups and increases appreciation for diversity. Sustained civic engagement of tomorrow’s scientists is imperative for effective communication between scientists and the public. Involvement of students in service-learning projects in which they engage in community service is one mechanism through which students may increase their long-term civic engagement, civic self-efficacy, and personal well-being. It follows that engaging students in course-based undergraduate research that serves the community (i.e., research-based service learning classes) will increase students’ civic engagement and civic efficacy in both the short and long-term. Furthermore, we predict it will allow students to engage with their community as scientists specifically developing their civic skills and improving their scientific contributions to the local community. We are working to text these outcomes in a variety of civically focused CUREs. This work involves one ongoing project.

  • The Boulder Apple Tree Project is a collaboration with Katie Suding in the EBIO department at CU Boulder. The Boulder Apple POP-CURE program involves university and community college students in researching a locally important biological resource, Boulder’s Historic Apple Trees. In the mid-1800’s there were thousands of apple varieties in the United States. Then, the apple industry settled on a handful of varieties to promote worldwide, and the rest were forgotten. Across Boulder County today, hundreds of apple trees are slowly growing, hidden in residents’ yards or serving as silent reminders of Colorado’s homesteaders in public parks. However, these 100-year-old trees are beginning to die, and local residents run the risk of losing this important ecological, genetic, and historic resource. The Boulder Apple POP-CURE project serves Boulder residents and local undergraduate students with two sets of aims, aims to address the preservation of local apple cultivars, and aims to address students’ scientific and civic development. In order to better characterize and preserve local historic cultivars, the project will locate and catalogue characteristics of existing apple trees in Boulder County, characterize how these trees interact with the local ecology, identify which genetic varieties/cultivars are currently growing, and graft the trees in order to preserve these genetic and cultural resources. Furthermore, the program will engage students directly in civic action via scientific research, demonstrating to students how they can use their scientific knowledge to serve their community. Thus, in Boulder County and beyond, this project will increase the engagement of tomorrow’s scientists in civic action that will serve citizens of the United States in myriad ways.


Community College (CC) Contexts and Engaging CC Faculty in CC Biology Education Research

Our lab is especially interested in how biology education occurs in the context of community colleges. Community colleges serve over half of the undergraduates in biology in the United States and serve the majority of underrepresented students in biology. Furthermore, they represent the demographic make-up of the future of all of our schools and universities as our society gradually becomes more diverse. Because of these characteristics and their strong dedication to excellent and relevant teaching, community colleges represent a context that can enrich biology education research and provide valuable insights into how to teach biology students in all contexts. Despite this, only 3% of the biology education literature in prominent bio-ed journals in 2016 focused on CC contexts or featured CC authors, representing a serious gap in the literature. Our lab seeks to remedy this gap via collaborations with CC instructors aimed at better understanding CC Biology education and by supporting CC instructors in engaging in CC BER. This work involves two ongoing projects.

  • CC Bio INSITES is an NSF-funded network that aims to increase and support community college instructors' investigations into teaching and learning biology. The network consists of Biology Education Researchers at two and four-year institutions who come together to discuss and improve community college scholarship and teaching in biology. This network grew out of the recognized need for more research on how students learn biology at community colleges, which serve over half of the nation’s biology majors and the majority of underrepresented students in biology, and recognition of the need for increased social, intellectual, and resource support for these efforts. Funding provided in part by NSF Research Coordination Networks for Undergraduate Biology Education. Grant # 1730130.
  • This work is a collaboration with Stacey Kiser at Lane Community College and Melissa Aikens at the University of New Hampshire. Skills and knowledge in quantitative biology are becoming increasingly useful as biological sub-fields become more quantitative. In response, college instructors are increasing quantitative offerings and emphases within biology. However, community college instructors face numerous challenges to teaching quantitative biology including a wider breadth of experiences and backgrounds in their students’ and fewer resources to learn and implement quantitative biology instruction in comparison to four-year universities. We seek to understand how instructors who do teach quantitative biology overcome these challenges, what supports can be provided to CC instructors hoping to teach quantitative biology, and how to implement such supports via professional development workshops.