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“Building Capacity for Future Grant Opportunities for the Biology Field Station: Measuring the Factors Impacting Student Outcomes from Undergraduate Experiences” Presented by Chris Lorentz, Ph.D.

Awarded a President’s Faculty Innovation Grant as a faculty-driven research/project.

Abstract: Field Stations provide an ideal venue for active field-based STEM engagement for students of all ages (National Research Council, 2014). In particular, our Field Station has experienced a rapid growth in its research and outreach programs over the past 10 years. However, currently no rigorous understanding exists of how such field experiences impact STEM learning at the undergraduate level and who might most benefit from these experiences (NRC 2014). Anecdotal information suggests that such field experiences have a tremendous positive impact on students, including their understanding of the science process and their choice of a STEM career. Over the spring and summer, I begin pulling together the resources and tools from the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS) and the Undergraduate Field Experience Research Network (UFERN). I also conducted two site visits of similar-sized Field Stations at Emory & Henry College and Juniata College. In addition, I adopted a new assessment tool to gauge the effectiveness of our summer research internships. Lastly, I identified two NSF grants to which we will apply this upcoming academic year and have plans to meet directly with the NSF Program Director at a fall field station conference at the Schoodic Institute in Maine. 

Report:  Field Stations and marine laboratories provide an ideal venue for active field-based STEM engagement for students of all ages—K-12 and undergraduate students (National Research Council 2014). While the “No-Child Left Inside” movement has explored the value of environmental education at the K-12 level, currently no rigorous understanding exists of how such field experiences impact STEM learning at the undergraduate level and who might most benefit from these experiences (NRC 2014). Most existing data are anecdotal or were not designed to tease out the impacts of a field experience per se. An NSF-sponsored study (Billick et al. 2013) of field stations and marine laboratories identified such an analysis as a top priority. 

Anecdotal information suggests that such field experiences have a tremendous positive impact on students including amongst others their understanding of the science process and their choice of a STEM career. Because by definition, field experiences occur outside the classroom, they have historically involved innovative approaches to STEM education, including inquiry-based and immersion experiences. According to the National Research Council 2014 report “Field stations are venues for discovery-based learning, and they offer rich opportunities for other types of active learning, which have been shown to promote diversity and persistence in STEM fields”. p 2. Previous data from our Field Station demonstrated that these experiences substantially increased the retention of students, as well as the likelihood of going on to graduate school (Bryant and Ferner 1998). These findings suggested that an experience at a field station offers additional benefits beyond the typical undergraduate research opportunity, such as being part of an interdisciplinary community and deep connection to place. 

Developing a better understanding of the direct factors impacting student outcomes from undergraduate research experiences has been identified as a national priority (e.g., Linn et al. 2015). Because educational experiences at field stations and marine labs (FSMLs) involve a number of approaches, including engagement in research, inquiry-based learning, and residential opportunities, and highly collaborative environments, they provide unique “learning labs” for conducting powerful investigations about practices that drive strong student outcomes. 

Over the spring and summer, I begin pulling together the resources and tools from the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS) and the Undergraduate Field Experience Research Network (UFERN). I also conducted two site visits of similar-sized Field Stations at Emory & Henry College and Juniata College. In addition, I adopted a new assessment tool to gauge the effectiveness of our summer research internships. Lastly, I identified two NSF grants to which we will apply this upcoming academic year and have plans to meet directly with the NSF Program Director at a fall field station conference at the Schoodic Institute in Maine. 

Goals: The goals of the work were to: 

1) Advance understanding of the impact of place- and field-based (and similar) learning experiences on undergraduate student science learning and STEM career choices, 

2) Assess the undergraduate experiences at the Biology Field Station for documented evidence-based practices in undergraduate STEM education through research and discovery, and 

3) Identify funding opportunities, at the federal level, to support undergraduate research and other experiential learning opportunities at the Field Station and at Thomas More College. 

Measurable outcomes and products (see Appendix) 

1) Tools for assessing/researching multiple outcomes of immersive field / place-based learning experiences that are vetted, validated, readily available, easily applied and modified by researchers to advance their fields and by practitioners to improve their programs and a 

2) List of potential grants, particularly at the federal level, that are feasible for the College to seek funding. 

Institutional Needs, University Mission and Student Learning 

As stated in our Strategic Plan, the College encourages relevant educational and student experiences, resulting in a Character Return on Investment, as students meet the challenge of a values-based education. Further, the College provides programs and tools to ensure that more students successfully initiate and complete a Thomas More College education. This work specifically addressed: “relevant educational and student experiences” and “programs and tools” for students. 

Community Needs 

The Biology Field Station is a regional resource for environmental education, research, consulting and community service. Students and faculty have worked with a diverse group of professionals with backgrounds in science, engineering, education and other similar disciplines and with extensive work experience in consulting, government, private industry, teaching, and research. The Outreach Programs at the Field Station range from daylong field trips for grade schoolers, weeklong summer camps for high schoolers, and workshops/professional development opportunities for teachers. 

Internal Community: Faculty from the Departments of Art, Biological Sciences, Chemistry, English, Education, Mathematics, Philosophy and Physics consistently participate in the TSI Summer STEM Institutes and Teacher Academies at the Station. Further, numerous other Clubs, Offices and Departments utilize the Field Station for retreats, workshops and other events. 

External Community: Each year, over 30 schools, private groups, corporations and governmental agencies utilize the Station for field trips, retreats, conferences and other events. 

Dissemination of Results: Internally, the products will be shared through the campus community, and in particular with other Departments seeking to increase their external funding opportunities. Externally, the results of this project will be presented at two conferences: the Annual Meeting of the Organization of Biological Field Stations from Sept 19-22, 2018 at the Schoodic Institute in Maine and the Ohio River Basin Alliance Summit from Oct. 17-19, 2018 at Thomas More College. 

References: 

Billick, I., I. Babb, B. Kloeppel, J.C. Leong, J. Hodder, J. Sanders, and H. Swain. 2013. Field Stations and Marine Laboratories of the Future: A Strategic Vision. National Association of Marine Laboratories and Organization of Biological Field Stations. 

Bryant, W.S. and J.W. Ferner. 1998. A Summary of 25 Years of Undergraduate Research at the Thomas More College Biology Field Station: What Became of the Students? J. Ky. Acad. Sci. 59(1): 12-14. 

Bryk, A. S., Gomez, L. M. and Grunow, A. (2011). Getting Ideas into Action: Building Networked Improvement Communities in Education, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, pages 127-162 in Hallinan, M. (Ed.). Frontiers of Sociology of Education, Springer Publishing, http://cdn.carnegiefoundation.org/wpcontent/uploads/2014/09/bryk-gomez_building-nics-education.pdf. 

Linn, M.C., E. Palmer, A. Baranger, E. Gerard, and E. Stone. 2015. Undergraduate research experiences: Impacts and Opportunities. Science 347: DOI: 10.1126/science.1261757 

National Research Council. 2014. Enhancing the Value and Sustainability of Field Stations and Marine Laboratories in the 21st Century. National Academies Press. http://www.nap.edu/catalog/18806/enhancing-the-value-and-sustainability-of-field-stations-and-marine-laboratories-in-the-21st-century 

Appendix 1: Original Assessment Tool for Summer Undergraduate Research Internships 

Thank you for your participation in the summer internships at the Thomas More College Biology Field Station. You played a big part in our research & outreach programs and other activities at the Center for Ohio River Research & Education. To ensure a positive experience for all and to help evaluate the effectiveness of the experience, please provide complete the online evaluation form by the end of August. Your feedback is important to us. Thanks. 

5 = Strongly Agree; 4 = Agree; 3 = Neither Agree nor Disagree; 2 = Disagree; 1 = Strongly Disagree STATEMENT  RESULTS 
I learned new things during this internship.  5.0 
I feel more confident in the related disciplines as a result of this internship.  4.72 + 0.19 
This internship strengthened my interests in the related disciplines.  4.85 + 0.09 
The supervisors were knowledgeable and helpful.  5.0 
The workload was appropriate.  4.3 + 0.97 
The stipend and housing were appropriate compensation for the internship.  4.12 + 0.74 
I will likely recommend this internship to others.  5.0 
I enjoyed the field trips associated with the internships.  4.7 + 0.26 
I enjoyed the seminars. (Please list your favorites)  4.59 + 0.33 
This internship was an enjoyable experience.  5.0 
The best part about the internship at the Thomas More College Biology Field Station was: 
 Electrofishing 

Getting to help in all aspects and learning what each crew did daily and also everyone there 

Learning new skills in a very hands on method 

 Networking with scientists at the EPA 

The internship has confirmed my interests in working for an environmental consulting firm upon graduation. 

If I could change something about the internship at the Thomas More College Biology Field Station, it would be: 
 I wish I had more time to work on my independent projects. 

 Maybe rotate the interns through the different programs? 

Appendix 2: Viable NSF Grants for the Field Station 

1. Program Title: Improvements in Facilities, Communications, and Equipment at Biological 

Field Stations and Marine Laboratories (FSML) 

Synopsis of Program: Biological Field Stations and Marine Laboratories (FSMLs) are off-campus facilities for research and education conducted in the natural habitats of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems. FSMLs support environmental and basic biological research and education by preserving access to study areas and organisms, by providing facilities and equipment in close proximity to those study areas, and by fostering an atmosphere of mutual scientific interest and collaboration in research and education. To fulfill these roles, FSMLs must offer modern research and educational facilities, equipment, communications and data management for a broad array of users. In recognition of the importance of FSMLs in modern biology, NSF invites proposals that address these general goals of FSML improvement. 

2. Program Title: Discovery Research PreK-12 (DRK-12) 

Synopsis of Program: The Discovery Research PreK-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of STEM education innovations and approaches. Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects. Projects should result in research-informed and field-tested outcomes and products that inform teaching and learning. Teachers and students who participate in DRK-12 studies are expected to enhance their understanding and use of STEM content, practices and skills. 

The DRK-12 program invites proposals that address immediate challenges that are facing preK-12 STEM education as well as those that anticipate radically different structures and functions of preK-12 teaching and learning. The DRK-12 program has three major research and development strands: (1) Assessment; (2) Learning; and (3) Teaching. The program supports six types of projects: (1) Exploratory, (2) Design and Development, (3) Impact, (4) Implementation and Improvement, (5) Syntheses, and (6) Conferences. All six types of projects apply to each of the three DRK-12 program strands. 

3. Program Title: Collections in Support of Biological Research (CSBR) 

Synopsis of Program: The Collections in Support of Biological Research (CSBR) Program provides funds: 1) for improvements to secure and organize collections that are significant to the NSF BIO-funded research community; 2) to secure collections-related data for sustained, accurate, and efficient accessibility to the biological research community; and 3) to transfer ownership of collections. The CSBR program provides for enhancements that secure and improve existing collections, improves the accessibility of digitized specimen-related data, and develop better methods for specimen curation and collection management. Requests should demonstrate a clear and urgent need to secure the collection, and the proposed activities should address that need. Biological collections supported include established living stock/culture collections, vouchered non-living natural history collections, and jointly-curated ancillary collections such as preserved tissues and DNA libraries. 

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