Attracting Students to the Geosciences with a First-Semester Dune Research ExperienceDeanna van Dijk, Department of Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies, Calvin College
The students who take the FYRES course gain both an undergraduate research experience and general education science credit by the end of their first semester. The research focus on the nearby Lake Michigan coastal dunes provides the setting, purpose and motivation for student learning. Students begin by learning skills in research, field methods, and the practices of science through semi-guided, inquiry-based experiences at dune sites. Students finish the semester with a substantive team research project focused on an original research question of interest to local dune managers or the scientific community. The first-year students are mentored throughout their experiences by upper-level Earth science students who are majoring in geology, geography, environmental studies or environmental science.
Each research team presents their research results in two formats: a conference-style research poster presented at a campus/community poster session and a conference-style oral presentation to an audience which includes classmates, local dune managers, and campus/community members. After the semester ends, the FYRES Mentors continue each research project to complete a presentation at a regional conference and a written report. The first-year students have co-authorship on these results of their team research, and they are invited to attend the regional conference to see their results presented.
A continuing challenge of the FYRES project is recruiting students from groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. Female students are well-represented and constitute roughly half of the student participation. Students with disabilities and students from underrepresented ethnic and racial groups have lower rates of participation. Because most FYRES students are recruited after they have already made a decision to attend Calvin College, the recruitment pool is constrained by the overall diversity of the student body. Calvin College is a faith-based 4-year liberal arts college, with strong ties to a particular denomination that has a strong ethnic (Dutch immigrant) heritage. In the 2013 Fall Day 10 report, the Calvin College student population was 75% white, 13% AHANA (African-, Hispanic-, Asian-, and Native- American) and 10% international students1. The number of AHANA and international students coming to Calvin College has been increasing in recent years, but progress is remains slow.
More information about the FYRES project and its student participants is available from the website at www.calvin.edu/go/fyres/. The FYRES project has been funded by the National Science Foundation (Grant #0942344) and the Michigan Space Grant Consortium.
1Multicultural Affairs Committee (2013). 2013-2014 State of the Campus Report. Calvin College (Grand Rapids, MI). Available online at www.calvin.edu/admin/comm/mac/. 40 p.