2018 GeoCUR Award for Excellence in Student Research

In 2018, CUR’s Geosciences Division presented the GeoCUR Award for Excellence in Student Research. Please review the citations from the nominators (PDF) and join us in congratulating our fifth group of student awardees in the history of this award.

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Councilor – David Szymanski

Dave Szymanski is an associate professor of geology and Chair of the Department of Natural and Applied Sciences at Bentley
University. He’s been a CUR member since 2012 and became a GeoCUR councilor in 2018.

“I work mainly with undergraduate business students and I teach sustainability at the intersection of earth science, policy, and business. As a geologist and chemist, I understand the power of research as a tool for teaching science. But more importantly, research provides a way of knowing that’s required to make good decisions in politics, policy, and business. No single discipline has all the answers and the research process humbles you quickly if you think otherwise. Undergraduate teaches the skills of inquiry and discovery, but it also develops skills that serve students in any career and it prepares them for citizenship. I joined CUR to become a better guide for students in this process of undergraduate research; I became a GeoCUR councilor to help my colleagues do the same.”

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Councilor – Ken Brown

Ken Brown is a Teaching Assistant Professor at West Virginia University. He began serving as a GeoCUR Councilor in 2017.

“As a Teaching Assistant Professor at WVU, one of my primary goals is to provide a memorable classroom experience that will have a strong, positive impact on my students. Thus, one of the best parts of teaching/mentoring is helping my students gain a deeper appreciation and awareness for the Earth and its many components. By helping my students understand how our planet works, they will be better prepared to solve the geologic and environmental problems of the future. My current research projects combinefieldwork, elemental and isotopic analyses, geochronology, and high-spatial resolution microanalytical techniques to place important constraints on challenging geologic and environmental problems.  Currently, I have several research projects that my undergraduate students and I are exploring. 

One of these projects is aimed at understanding the origins of exceptionally large potassium-feldspar crystals (>4cm) that are found within rocks that represent the once-active roots of ancient volcanic systems.  Although potassium feldspar is a common rock-forming mineral, the formation of large, perfectly-shaped potassium feldspar crystals has remained a long-standing controversy in igneous petrology for nearly 100 years. My students and I are using detailed microscopy and geochemistry to test competing hypotheses regarding the enigmatic origins of these crystals.

I am also working with undergraduate students to solve environmental problems. More specifically, my students and I are currently evaluatingthe spatial distribution of heavy metal contaminants (Pb, Hg, Cr, Ni, Cu, Zn, and Cd) in soils within Morgantown, WV.  Because Morgantown is located within a region with a well-documented legacy of coal burning and mining operations, this city is an excellent location to evaluate the links between heavy metal contamination caused by coal burning and its impacts on human health.”

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Councilor – Kristina Walowski

Kristina Walowski is an Assistant Professor of Geology at Middlebury College. She started as a GeoCUR Council in 2018.

“For my research, I primarily utilize melt inclusions (tiny blobs of magma trapped in crystals) and mafic minerals (olivine, pyroxene, and spinel) to study a variety of magmatic processes from magma reservoir evolution and eruption dynamics, to mantle melting and volatile recycling in the mantle. This interest in magmatic processes began while studying for my B.S. in Geology at UCLA, and was solidified during my undergraduate research experience for which I explored the volatile history of the Bishop Tuff as recorded by apatite. This positive and formative experience was the main reason I chose to attend graduate school at the University of Oregon, where I completed my Ph.D. in 2015. Through my experience in research as an undergraduate, I gained confidence in my ability as an independent scientist and fell in love with the excitement of discovery and the pursuit of knowledge. Now, as a new faculty member at an undergraduate-only institution, Middlebury College, I aim to provide my students with the same opportunity. Integrating students into my research and watching them grow through Middlebury’s year-long research thesis has been one of the most rewarding parts of my job. My interest in improving my mentoring practices and becoming connected to a broader community led me to CUR, and as a first-term GeoCUR Councilor, I am excited to expand my scholarship in science education and help promote undergraduate research opportunities in the geosciences.”

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Councilor – Lydia Fox

Lydia Fox is at the University of the Pacific, in Stockton CA where she is both Director of Undergraduate Research and a professor in the Dept. of Geological & Environmental Sciences.  She has been a GeoCUR Councilor for many years and served as Division Chair.

“I am passionate about undergraduate research because of my experiences as a undergraduate. My involvement in research projects my junior and senior years transformed my life.  By the time I graduated, I knew I wanted to become a professor and provide other students with those experiences.  I get tremendous satisfaction from helping students as they grapple with new ideas and puzzle their way through uncertainty to a reach point of deep understanding.  As the campus director of undergraduate research at Pacific, I have the privilege to facilitate students working with faculty research mentors from all disciplines.  Watching the excitement an pride students have when they present their research and our annual research conference is infinitely rewarding.”

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Councilor – Dan Brabander

Dan Brabander is a Professor of Geosciences, Frost Professor Environmental Sciences, at Wellesley College.

Fostering integration as a way of thinking. Brabander offers “Big Idea” courses that introduce systems thinking in applied and messy problem spaces. Course goals are centered on taking a crude look at the whole to determine a path of inquiry. Approach focuses on transdisciplinary theories (e.g., see open syllabus project: paradigms) while fostering intrinsic motivation through project based collaborative learning. Deliverables are aimed at de novo authorship of scientific narratives. Three recent courses have been designed with these goals as a framework: (1) SUST220(Wellesley) AHSE2199A/SCI2099A (Olin) Paradigms, Predictions, and Joules: A Historical and Scientific Approach to Energy and the Environment (2) GEOS/ES 201 (Wellesley) Environmental, Health, and Sustainability Sciences (3) ASTR/GEOS 120 (Wellesley) Planetary Habitability: Past, Present, and Future. These applied alternative on-ramps into STEM have attracted a higher percentage of both URM and first generation students. In 2010, Brabander was awarded the Wellesley College’s Pinanski Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

Integration leading to new disciplines. Informed by research experiences at both Parsons Lab at MIT and Harvard School of Public Health, Brabander’s current research is at the intersection of environmental health and medical geosciences and has helped shape and define an emergent new discipline: “geohealth.”

Professor Brabander’s research team comprises undergraduates learning science by doing science, citizen scientists, and not for profit organizations. Projects have been featured in numerous media outlets including NPR, ABC news, the Boston Globe, and Time Magazine. His current research focus is environmental geochemistry, health, and sustainable urban agriculture.

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2018 CUR Conference

The theme of the 2018 CUR Conference was Creating Collaborative Connections in and through Undergraduate Research. Below are highlighted sessions by GeoCUR councilors and members. Please view the full conference program for a listing of all sessions.


PANEL PRESENTATION: Progress in Scaling Up an Innovative Evaluation Method: Perspectives from Pilot Implementation Sites and Next Steps

Jill Singer | Karen G. Havholm | Jennifer Harris
State University of New York- Buffalo State | University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire | University of Washington

Development and pilot testing of an evaluation method for summer research programs is discussed. The method involves multiple assessments of student knowledge and skills for 11 outcome categories each defined by multiple components. Mentors assess students, students self-assess, and mentor-student pairs experience repeated structured interactions to help students reflect and identify content knowledge and skills they desire to improve. A “dashboard” facilitates tracking. Panelists represent institutions that pilot tested the method. Discussion includes refinement of the method, the next round of pilot testing, and plans for eventual broader distribution.

 

PANEL PRESENTATION: Creating Successful Undergraduate Research Connections between Two-Year and Four-Year Colleges and Universities

Jennifer A. Lanter | Diana Spencer | Michelle Hayford | Prajukti Bhattacharyya | Jane Lehr
Moraine Park Technical College | Tulsa Community College | University of Dayton | University of Wisconsin – Whitewater | California Polytechnic State University- San Luis

This session will bring together individuals active in undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative activities at two-year colleges with those at four-year colleges and universities to discuss opportunities and pathways that allow student researchers to transition seamlessly from two-year to four-year institutions. The goal of this session is to share best practices, as well as the benefits and challenges, of connecting two-year and four-year undergraduate research experiences for students and related professional development for faculty.

 

PANEL PRESENTATION: Building Collaborative Relationships: Discussion of Vignettes Showcasing Innovative Relationships Designed to Support Student Learning

Jennifer A. Lanter | Aaron Richard Sakulich | Michael Jackson | Mark L. Lord
Moraine Park Technical College | Worcester Polytechnic Institute | Millersville University | Western Carolina University

The Council on Undergraduate Research’s Innovation and Collaboration Task Force, consisting of Councilors from several CUR divisions, has developed a website to collect, peer review, and share case-study examples of collaborations that support opportunities, resources, and/or success for undergraduates. In this panel we will discuss the information available on the website, as well as the vignette submission and review process. In all, our goal is that, through sharing these examples – both on the website and at the conference—we will inspire others to engage in innovative and collaborative activities.

 

POSTER: The Essential Role of Information Literacy in Basic Undergraduate Research Skills

Laura A. Guertin
Penn State Brandywine

As undergraduate student researchers, students are creators of new knowledge while at the same time are required to interact with existing information. Knowing how and where to find material and answers to questions in the earliest stage of the research process is not a skill we can assume students have when they arrive at our universities. Collaboration between a discipline faculty member and a faculty reference/instruction librarian can result in several possible approaches to establishing a foundation in information literacy for students to then pursue undergraduate research experiences.

 

POSTER: Integrating Student Feedback and Evaluation: A Different Approach to Identifying and Documenting the Impact of Undergraduate Research
Jill Singer | Jennifer Harris | Karen G. Havholm
State University of New York – Buffalo State | University of Washington | University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire

With funding from the NSF WIDER program, an evidence-based evaluation model for guiding undergraduate research is being piloted. The model involves progress assessments by faculty and students across a wide range of learning outcomes. Through repeated structured interactions between student and mentor at the beginning, middle, and end of research, the evaluation helps students recognize and better understand strengths and weaknesses, as well as providing institutional assessment data beyond that self-reported by students. Through collaborations with CUR and SERC at Carleton College, we currently are pilot testing and refining the evaluation model.

 

PRESENTATION: Broadening Participation in STEM: Effective Strategies and Student Perspectives

Catherine Chan | Prajukti Bhattacharyya | Shen Zhang | Carolyn L Morgan
University of Wisconsin – Whitewater | University of Wisconsin – Whitewater | University of Wisconsin – Whitewater | University of Wisconsin – Whitewater

As part of our efforts to broaden undergraduate research participation, we obtained a sub-award from the Wisconsin Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (WiscAMP) to encourage underrepresented minority students to consider majoring in STEM fields by providing them with research and professional development opportunities, such as a three-day Winter Research Institute for students with diverse academic and research experience. This presentation will highlight our strategies to broaden participation and reduce the opportunity gap in STEM fields, as well as student perspectives shared during focus-group interviews.

 

POSTER: Creating and Assessing Video Animations of Deep Earth Processes to Support Student Learning and Investigations

Jeffrey G. Ryan | Robert J. Stern | Victor Ricchezza | Lochlan Vaughn
University of South Florida | University of Texas at Dallas | University of South Florida | University of Texas at Dallas

This NSF-funded project seeks to generated and educationally evaluate scientifically accurate and engaging video animations of deep earth processes targeting introductory and upper-level undergraduate geoscience courses. We report initial results from the development and testing of an initial animation discussing the different modalities of mantle melting.

 

PRESENTATION: UW-Whitewater Undergraduate Research Program and Student Success: A Data-Driven Self-Study

Catherine Chan | Prajukti Bhattacharyya
University of Wisconsin – Whitewater | University of Wisconsin – Whitewater

The Undergraduate Research Program leadership team at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater conducted a self-study on the characteristics of student participants and possible outcomes of their participation. We analyzed various demographic, retention, and graduation data spanning the academic years 2009-2010 to 2016-2017. Results suggested that students participating in mentored research show improved retention and graduation rates compared to other students from similar demographics.

 

PANEL PRESENTATION: North Carolina Public and Private Colleges and Universities Converge Around Undergraduate Research

Lee Phillips | Mary A. Farwell | Rebecca Battista | Joanne D. Altman
University of North Carolina at Greensboro | East Carolina University | Appalachian State University | High Point University

Public and private North Carolina colleges and universities work, collectively, to help promote undergraduate research and creative inquiry as a pathway to learning process through discovery. These efforts are coordinated by faculty/UR program directors from both state and independent institutions. The presenters will discuss the successful programs that have evolved from these collaborations and best and worst practices. Participants will be able to leave with models and ideas for developing or strengthening efforts to grow regional programs that forge collaborations among a variety of universities and colleges.

 

PRESENTATION: OUR Explorers: A Program to Expose Undergraduates to Research Opportunities across Campus

Allison Beauregard-Schwartz University of West Florida

The University of West Florida (UWF) Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR), recently launched the OUR Explorers program for underclassmen. The goals for this program are to encourage students to engage in research earlier, to increase engagement in undergraduates research, and to broaden the scope of potential mentors that students consider. OUR Explorers students are matched with three or four faculty “guides” from a broad range of research specialties to shadow for the spring semester, based on the student’s stated interests and career goals.

 

 

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2016 CUR Conference

The theme of the 2016 CUR Conference was Advancing Undergraduate Research: Collaboration and Innovation in a Global Society. Below are highlighted sessions by GeoCUR councilors and members. Please view the full conference program for a listing of all sessions.


WORKSHOP: Facilitating Instruction and Research with Undergraduates Using Remotely Operable Microbeam Instrumentation

Presenters: Jeffrey G. Ryan | Sven Paul Holbik | James MacDonald | Mary Beck
University of South Florida | Florida International University | Florida Gulf Coast University | Valencia College

Making use of research instrumentation in undergraduate science courses is a common practice, but one that has historically been limited by access to instrumentation, which creates a range of challenges in providing a classroom of undergraduate students with substantive hands-on educational experiences. This NSF-TUES funded Expansion project is building on the success of a CCLI Program funded pilot effort at USF- Tampa in integrating the use of both electron probe micro-analysis (EPMA) and scanning electron microsocopy (SEM) into introductory and upper-level courses in the earth sciences via remote operation technologies. Students use these instruments (housed at the Florida Center for Analytical Electron Microscopy at FIU in Miami, FL) in real time in their classrooms, conducting both structured laboratory activities and open-ended investigations of collected samples. In this “workshop” you will get hands-on experiences with the FCAEM EPMA and SEM instrumentation as well as an overview of instructor and student instructional resources which are provided via the FCAEM website, and a summary of our salient results in terms of student engagement and facilitation of undergraduate research. You will have the opportunity to discuss with our investigator team how you might take advantage of the FCAEM instruments and resources in your own courses, and the chance to schedule mentored use time on one of the FCAEM instruments to familiarize yourself with the system, and try out your analytical/educational strategies. Our TUES project includes funding to support “tryout days” for new instructional users.

 

PANEL PRESENTATION: The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship in Earth and Environmental Sciences (SURFEES) Program: Targeting Community College Students through Research Experiences at 4-Year Colleges

Presenters: Christopher Kim | Hesham El-Askary | Rosalee Hellberg
Chapman University

Effectively recruiting and engaging diverse community college students in STEM research experiences is an increasingly important goal of the National Science Foundation, but has not historically been the primary focus of most NSF-REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) Site programs. The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship in Earth and Environmental Sciences (SURFEES) program at Chapman University, a primarily undergraduate institution in Southern California, is the site of the first NSF-REU program in NSF’s Division of Earth Sciences that selects participants exclusively from local partnering community colleges. The SURFEES program incorporates specific mentor and participant pre-experience training, pre-, mid-, and post-assessment instruments, and programming targeted to the earth and environmental sciences as well as to community college students. Perhaps most importantly, the application, selection and pairing of student participants with faculty mentors was conducted with specific goals of identifying those applicants with the greatest potential for a transformative experience while also meeting self-defined targets of under-represented minority, female, and low-income participants. In this panel discussion, the program’s principal investigator along with SURFEES faculty mentors from disciplines including biology, earth system science and food science will present initial assessment results of the first two participant cohorts from summer 2014 and 2015, discuss lessons learned for creating/adapting an NSF-REU site to involve community college students, and share individual observations about the student-faculty mentoring and research experience associated with this unique program.

 

PANEL PRESENTATION: Investigating the Earth and Other Planets Via Virtual Globes such as Google Earth, NASA World Wind, and Cesium

Presenters: Jeffrey G. Ryan
University of South Florida

Aside from serving as a widely used geospatial visualization platform, Google Earth provides ready access to a large and growing collection of earth and planetary observation datasets, as well as to “crowd-sourced” imagery and visualizations which students can investigate through course-based structured research experiences as well as via independent investigations. These and other geospatial visualization platforms (examples include GeoMapApp/Virtual Ocean, focused on observational data from the world’s oceans and seafloor; and Cesium, a new open-source virtual map and globe engine) present a wealth of opportunities for engaging undergraduates in the interrogation of global datasets. This set of Presentations will highlight investigations of Earth observation datasets accessible through Google Earth Engine, of the extensive NASA database for Lunar and Mars imagery accessible through the Planets option in GE, and of time-slider, Gigapan, and new 3D visualization resources available through the NSF-funded GEODE project (Google Earth in Onsite and Distance Education). Participants will have the opportunity to delve into and evaluate a range of open-source global geo-data resources and visualization tools.

 

PANEL PRESENTATION: Engaging Students in Course-Based Research: Reports from PCAST, NAS, and Examples from Earth/Environmental Sciences

Presenters: Laura A. Guertin | Mark L. Lord | Sarah K. Fortner
Penn State Brandywine | Western Carolina University | Wittenberg University

The national “Engage to Excel” PCAST report (2012) and “Integrating Discovery-Based Research into the Undergraduate Curriculum” NAS Convocation Report (2015) makes a strong call for using research in our courses. Course-based research offers students training and practice with what we do as scientists and helps to bridge the gap between our teaching and our research. In addition, course-based research is inclusive and supports student success. In this session, we will share information from these published reports, provide examples of successful undergraduate research projects in courses, and strategies for involving different components of research into courses at all levels. Participants will leave with a concrete plan for integrating research in one of their own courses.

 

WORKSHOP: Innovation and Collaboration: Creating Opportunities without Reinventing the Wheel

Presenters: Cynthia A Merriwether-DeVries | Sarah K. Fortner | Jon Grahe
Juniata College | Wittenberg University | Pacific Lutheran University

The session will begin with a brief introduction to the history of the Innovation and Collaboration Task Force and the activities conducted in support of the CUR Innovation and Collaboration Strategic Pillar. Participants will be introduced to the newly launched Case Studies in Innovation & Collaboration website to glean ideas for collaboration opportunities applicable to their home institutional environment. Participants will develop a preliminary plan to implement and analyze a project upon their return to their home campuses. Participants will interact with faculty who have successfully implemented demonstration projects presented on the case study website. Participants will be encouraged to consider supports and challenges related to the application of collaboration strategies in their specific discipline and in their specific community contexts. Participants are encouraged to come with specific illustrations of the corporate, public sector and social service organizations in their home communities that could serve as potential community partners. Project ideas generated by faculty or community partners should be summarized by participants prior to the workshop. PLEASE NOTE: If the participant does not have project ideas it is important to consider the unmet needs in their home community and or potential industry partners to approach on return to their home campus. Participants are encouraged to visit the Case Studies website in advance of the workshop.

 

PRESENTER: Teaching Through Research in the Sciences: a Student Cohort Model

Presenter: Weston Dripps
Furman University

All Bachelor of Science students within the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences are required to complete a senior thesis based on original research completed during the summer prior to the senior year. During fall of their senior year, students enroll in a course designed to methodically guide them through the process of writing their senior thesis. Students meet as a cohort with an instructor twice a week and then individually with their thesis advisor on a weekly basis. The course provides detailed instruction on writing the various components to a thesis and requires that students generate multiple drafts of each section of their thesis with set deadlines. Upon completion of the course, students have written a full draft of their thesis, and have submitted an abstract to a professional meeting. The spring term is used to further revise the thesis, present the work at a professional meeting, and defend the thesis at a public departmental defense. The recent addition of this course to the curriculum has provided substantially more instruction, structure, and collaboration within the research process, has significantly improved the quality of the research work, and has enhanced the thesis learning experience. The cohort model has changed what was previously an individual, independent, fairly isolating thesis experience to a peer supported, communal, collaborative bonding endeavor. This model requires a significant time commitment and active participation by all faculty overseeing thesis projects in order for it to be successful. From a curriculum development standpoint, the course has allowed the department to identify the core skills students need to successfully complete the senior thesis as well as exposed some competency weaknesses (e.g. graphing skills, hypothesis development, managing large datasets), which have subsequently been scaffolded throughout the curriculum, so that students build these skills prior to engaging in the senior thesis.

 

POSTER: Integrating Discovery-Based Research into the Undergraduate STEM Curriculum: A Convocation Report from NAS

Presenters: Laura A. Guertin | Elizabeth L. Ambos | Jeffrey G. Ryan
Penn State Brandywine | Council on Undergraduate Research | University of South Florida

 

 

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