PRIMER: Authentic Research on Environmental Microbiology

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Title of Abstract: PRIMER: Authentic Research on Environmental Microbiology

Name of Author: Jose Perez-Jimenez
Author Company or Institution: Universidad del Turabo
Author Title: Associate Professor/Director
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Agricultural Sciences, Bioinformatics, Biotechnology, Ecology and Environmental Biology, Microbiology, Research courses, Virology
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum
Approaches: Authentic Research Experience
Keywords: authentic research, microbiology, bioprospecting, biotechnology, mycology

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Yomarie Bernier, Universidad del Turabo

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The overall goal has been to develop research skills and attitude among undergraduate students that energize them towards academic progress (retention) and success (graduation).

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Puerto Rico Institute for Microbial Ecology Research (PRIMER), as an authentic research experience model, has provide diverse levels for engagement for students. The skills development has three stages: apprentice (help others to conduct protocols and initial understanding), novice (perform protocols with minimal supervision and are capable of explaining the applied scientific method), and fellow (address new questions with the mentor and are capable of scientific writing with supporting literature). Students develop initial expertise in particular protocols that later teach to peers: a community of learning has evolved. Intellectual development is fostered throughout discussion sessions: regular laboratory meetings, oral presentations at local student forum, and poster presentation at scientific meetings (local and national). Participation at SACNAS National Conference is aimed every year.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: We have noticed increase level of personal and academic confidence along the PRIMER process of research, collaboration, and dissemination. We lack a formal evaluation methodology.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Students that took the opportunity with responsibility and dedication (~90%) has experienced academic success: retention, graduation, formal jobs, and pursue of graduate/professional education. In 1998, the undergraduate research experience motivated an interdisciplinary faculty team in biological sciences to strengthen institutional effort with formal dissemination forums and opportunities. Recently, students presentations have become part of the Researchers Forum (originally established for faculty).

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: PRIMER has operated as an extracurricular program that demands a lot of time on mentoring/training by the faculty and research/dissemination by the students. A learning community has evolved from learning protocols among more expert students, recruiting assistant mentors, and regular meeting aligned with dissemination commitments. We have formally proposed to organize research course in fixed schedule for more efficient time management and rigorous evaluations.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Dissemination activities have been based on active participation with presentations at scientific forums (university, state, and nation). Recently, PRIMER was portrayed in the new magazine for the Chancellors office. Additionally, newsletter has been prepared and distributed on campus and NSF ATE-related events.

Acknowledgements: Research was supported in part by 'Richness and endemicity of sulfate-reducing bacteria in Neotropical environments' (NSF-RIG MCB-0615671), 'PRIMER Tropical Bioprospecting Venture at CETA' (NSF-ATE DUE-0903274), and 'PRIMER Bioprospecting for Bioenergy' (US Forest Service 11-DG-11330101-111) to Dr. Perez-Jiminez. We are thankful to Diana L. Laureano, Aracelis Molina, and Darlene Muñoz for administrative assistance. We are especially proud of the students than embraced the opportunity with responsibility and dedication to transform their lives.