Interdisciplinary Science Workshop for Incoming Students

Return to search results | New search

Title of Abstract: Interdisciplinary Science Workshop for Incoming Students

Name of Author: Anne Kruchten
Author Company or Institution: Linfield College
Author Title: Associate Professor and Chair
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Mixed Approach
Keywords: interdisciplinary research first-year students community faculty development

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: At Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, we are implementing the Vision and Change Call to Action by targeting points four and five of the Core Competencies and Disciplinary Action. Specifically, we are working to help our biology students to discover their ability to tap into the interdisciplinary nature of science and to enhance their ability to communicate and collaborate with other disciplines.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Faculty in the biology, chemistry, math, and physics departments at Linfield College were motivated to immerse students into an interdisciplinary, collaborative environment from the first moment they walk onto campus, before their classes have even started. As a result, we have recently concluded our first annual iFOCUS program for incoming students. iFOCUS (Interdisciplinary First-Year Orientation Camp for Undergraduate Sciences) engaged ten new Linfield students in authentic, collaborative research projects with Linfield faculty from across the STEM disciplines for a week before classes began during the fall of 2012. This program is specifically designed to help both faculty and students in STEM disciplines to recognize the inherent similarities of the practice of science across our disciplines, to model interdisciplinary collaborations and communication, and to foster relationships and problem solving skills among students and faculty in the STEM disciplines.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Our preliminary assessment of this program via student and faculty evaluation forms suggested that we made significant progress towards our goals of modeling interdisciplinary collaborations and communication and of fostering relationships and problem solving skills among students in the STEM disciplines. We were pleased to find that following their iFOCUS experience, seven of the ten student participants in the program joined research laboratories during their first semester on campus. In addition, we had the serendipitous outcome of permeating beyond our core nucleus of interested faculty to a broad participation of faculty across disciplines. iFOCUS originally included three faculty participants, but ten faculty members ultimately participated in the project.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Our President and Vice-President for Academic Affairs are actively supporting these endeavors by financially supporting the iFOCUS program with full funding, providing financial support for faculty planners to attend PKAL and AAC&U workshops, and encouraging a Trustee initiative to raise funds to support innovative STEM programs at the college, including the programs discussed here. We believe that we have begun to make headway both towards the aims of the Vision and Change Call to Action and towards engaging previously disinterested faculty by encouraging the modeling of effective scientific practices and the development of an interdisciplinary STEM community on our campus.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: The iFOCUS program is limited to a small number of incoming students (approximately ten to fifteen) in order to develop relationships between students and faculty and to begin to establish an interdisciplinary science community. Many more students are involved in our ongoing science programs, however. To reach out to more students, in the second iteration of iFOCUS during the fall of 2013 we will continue the program experience through the year via the use of learning communities. These learning communities will focus on problem solving skills, such as participating in inter-institutional mathematics competitions or annotation of genome sequences in conjunction with the Genomics Education Partnership (Sarah Elgin, Washington University). iFOCUS participants will form the core of these learning communities and recruit other new students to join them in their activities. We anticipate that this will further enhance the science community and increase the students' communication and collaboration skills.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Our results have been disseminated through poster presentations at national conferences. We plan to write a manuscript summarizing our project after the 2013/2014 program is complete. We will also utilize the newly established Northwest Biosciences Consortium, funded through an NSF-RCN grant, to disseminate the results from this program to faculty from across Oregon and the Pacific Northwest who teach in introductory biology courses.

Acknowledgements: We acknowledge Dr. Thomas Hellie, President, and Linfield College for continued financial support of the iFOCUS program.