2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 27-1
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-5:30 PM


NORD, Julia A., Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Science, George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, MSN 5F2, Fairfax, VA 22030, LUKES, Laura A., CTFE; Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic, & Earth Sciences, George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, 241 Johnson Center, Fairfax, VA 22030, HAZEL, Stephanie, Office of Institutional Assessment. Acting Director, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030 and USHER, Bethany, Students as Scholars. Director, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030, jnord@gmu.edu

Undergraduate research experiences have been linked to recruiting and retaining students in STEM fields, particularly for traditionally underrepresented students. However, certain skills and a base level understanding of research and inquiry processes are needed for students to succeed in these experiences. Through the Students as Scholarsprogram at George Mason University, faculty are supported to redevelop course curricula to intentionally incorporate inquiry-based learning objectives and activities to teach research skills.

Soil Science, a major’s course, was redesigned to include “Scholarly Inquiry” outcomes: articulating a scholarly question; engaging in active inquiry-based learning; gathering applicable evidence; and using appropriate conventions when reporting results. The course partners with Environmental Studies on the Piedmont (ES), a local field station, in a service-learning project that addresses ES needs. Students work in self-selected teams to identify a soil-related project such as identifying the best site to build a salamander pond habitat, a vegetable/crop plot, or a wetlands area. Teams remotely investigate what soils, topography, etc. are needed to create the projects and then collect data at ES using an auger and soil analysis protocols. The teams then synthesize their results into a formal written report that they also present orally to the Director of ES. These reports are kept and used at the field station.

Students reported that the course has helped (very much/quite a bit) in understanding current issues in soil science, the research process, and collecting appropriate evidence for a research project. They have learned skills that are appropriate to their career goals and feel better able to work with others and contribute to their field, all while retaining a curious attitude. All 11 respondents (16 in the class) reported that the research project was the most valuable and enjoyable course experience. While students had positive experiences in the course, and 5 state that they want to go to graduate school, 7 of 11 respondents were not motivated or unsure if they wanted to do further independent research as an undergraduate. This finding has implications for the ways that faculty communicate with students about research and the transfer of these skills.