Undergraduate Education

Through hands-on research experiences, we can equip undergraduates with the skills, experiences, and mentors to pursue successful careers in science. Our undergraduate education research and outreach aims to create a range of research opportunities and activities that help students build a strong foundation in the sciences. Through our education research, we can continue to understand how students learn about scientific concepts and strategies for improving how we teach science education.

Research Experience for Undergraduates Internship

Immersive lab experiences and strong mentors are essential to fostering the next generation of plant scientists.

Our Research Experience for Undergraduates summer internship program exposes students to all aspects of modern scientific research, from design to experimentation to reporting. By pairing each intern with a faculty mentor, students gain unique insight into the process and training involved in becoming a scientist, and the broader impact of scientific discovery. The program is made possible through generous support from the National Science Foundation.

Authentic Research Experiences

Engaging student scientists in foundational research happening at the Danforth Center.

Genotype to Phenotype
In this program, high school and college students can grow their own corn seedlings, learn ways to measure leaf angles, and contribute real data to the laboratory of Danforth Center Principal Investigator Andrea Eveland, Ph.D. Through this experience, teachers and students are trained in concepts of genetics as they relate to agriculture, food security, and data science.

Leaf angle in corn plants plays a role in determining plant density (how many plants can be grown per acre) and yield (the number of ears of corn that are produced per acre). In Dr.  Eveland’s Lab, research is being conducted to identify genetic factors that regulate the variation in leaf angle. Through Genotype to Phenotype, students will grow corn seedlings of hundreds of corn genotypes and measure the leaf angles manually and through image analysis.

In a second exercise, students test for the presence of specific changes in the DNA of the corn plants in order to understand the correlation between these genotypic changes and the variation in the phenotypes (physical characteristics) of the plants. By screening hundreds of corn genotypes, students contribute molecular and phenotypic data that can help the Eveland lab develop predictive models to determine the leaf angle of an adult plant based on the seedling data.

Contact Sandra Arango-Caro to get started with Genotype to Phenotype.

Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences

Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) are impactful experiences for undergraduate students.

They can contribute to academic achievement, future career interests, and stimulate interest in STEM fields. Our scientists are developing CUREs in the processing and analysis of plant phenotype data to engage large numbers of undergraduate students in authentic scientific research.

The “big data” course will engage entire classrooms of students in phenotyping (physical characteristics) data analysis to learn data science and big-data analysis techniques. Students will be engaged in the scientific practice, designing research questions, experimental set up to answer those questions, data processing and analysis to generate new knowledge within collaborative teams.

Asynchronous Discussions to Engage Students in Scientific Argumentation

Part of the scientific process is discussing ideas with other scientists in an effort to reach a higher understanding of the concept, a process called scientific argumentation.

Scientific argumentation in classrooms allows students to also reach a deeper understanding of the concepts presented. Many schools, from high school to graduate school, are providing classes online. However, it is unclear how to optimize these virtual classrooms to promote effective argumentation, in part because it is unclear what factors influence productive argumentation online.

Asynchronous Discussions to Engage Students in Scientific Argumentation (ADESSA) explores various aspects of scientific argumentation as it occurs both in-person and on asynchronous online discussion boards. It also examines factors such as the structure of the argument, if the argument style is cooperative (epistemic) or competitive (relational), gender, ethnicity, and social status among others. These results will help create virtual learning environments that promote effective scientific argumentation and allow students to learn as well as they do in a classroom.

Educational Tools

EvoEthics Reflections
How do ethics influence our understanding of evolution? How are our ethics influenced by our understanding of evolution? Understanding misconceptions of evolution and natural selection in the context of student’s perceived ethics will help us address these topics. Our Education Research Lab has developed a set of three case studies, called EvoEthics, to target the intersection of evolution and natural selection misconceptions with students’ moral and ethical beliefs in the context of disease treatments.

Misconception - GMO
In our Misconception program, students will be faced with applying their knowledge about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) to explain real-world situations and make comparisons between GMO crops and plant breeding. We are in the first stages of developing this intervention tool to help students create a connection between their beliefs about GMOs and the scientific facts around GMOs.