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UNE receives $640,000 NSF grant to implement project- and research-oriented curriculum focusing on the Saco River

The Saco River Estuary

September 09, 2014

Students conduct research in the Saco River
UNE students conduct research in the Saco River.

As science and mathematics education becomes increasingly important for students to succeed in today’s society, the University of New England has announced that it will launch Project TURBO (The Undergraduate Saco River Biodiversity Observatory). This interdisciplinary curriculum revision will provide authentic research experiences through a Long-Term-Ecological-Research- (LTER) style project for all students in the natural sciences. The National Science Foundation (NSF) will support the project for five years with a new grant of $640,000.

Principal investigator of the project, Markus Frederich, Ph.D., associate professor and assistant department chair of the Department of Marine Sciences, explains: “We will create a project-oriented learning experience using the local estuary of the Saco River by developing new course modules, by stimulating undergraduate research projects, by founding an interdisciplinary and project-focused conference, and by implementing targeted faculty development. Project TURBO will lead to increased hands-on and interdisciplinary student learning, leading to increased student retention and persistence in the sciences.”

Frederich and co-principal investigators Ursula Roese, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, and Stephan Zeeman, Ph.D., professor of marine sciences, will implement the project which will involve at least 29 courses and more than 1,600 students. Through the project, students will work simultaneously on assessing, monitoring and modeling aspects of the Saco River estuary. Students will investigate urban, salt marsh, intertidal and open-water habitats and apply methods of ecology, physiology, molecular biology, botany, zoology, mathematics, chemistry and physics. A central database and web portal will make the data available for interdisciplinary data mining within UNE and to the public.

Repeated exposure to place-based education within Project TURBO over four years of undergraduate study will provide UNE students with progressive in-depth experiences in STEM. This will enable them to connect the process of discovery with learning and knowledge creation, and prepare them to be leaders, teachers and innovators in emerging and rapidly changing STEM fields.

This newly funded project builds on the strength of the University of New England in undergraduate research and on previous support from the National Science Foundation for establishing a regional undergraduate research conference (NURDS) at UNE, a GK-12 program that supported graduate students to participate in science education, and outreach to seven school districts in southern Maine affecting more than 2,400 students, and a major instrumentation grant that provides top-notch research equipment to undergraduate students at UNE.

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