A consortium led by University of Detroit Mercy will make authentic research experiences more accessible for hundreds of students across the United States, thanks to a recent National Science Foundation (NSF) grant.
The three-year, $300,000 award funds the expansion of a Fly-CURE (Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience) undergraduate genetics laboratory course to 20 higher education institutions.
Detroit Mercy Associate Professor Jacob Kagey first developed Fly-CURE in 2012, basing the semester-long course on his own lab’s research, which involves mapping genetic mutations that cause tissue overgrowth, or tumors, in fruit flies. The mutations students study can offer clues to what goes wrong in similar diseases in humans.
“The class was very successful, and a few years later, I began to work with colleagues at other universities to implement this project in their departments,” said Kagey, who is one of four co-principal investigators on the project.
Seven institutions, including Detroit Mercy, are currently involved in the Fly-CURE consortium: Albion College, Ohio Northern University, Ohio Wesleyan University, Illinois State University, University of Evansville and Nevada State College. The NSF grant allows 13 additional institutions to join it, with a goal centered on making research experiences more accessible for students historically underrepresented in biomedical research.
Kagey anticipates at least 800 students nationally will participate in the Fly-CURE project over the next three years. Community colleges and institutions with large minority populations are being targeted to join the project.
“We have, as a group, mapped many novel mutants and have published several publications with over 100 undergraduate co-authors,” said Kagey. “It is our hope that we can continue to identify novel genes and learn how mutations contribute to tumor development in humans.”
Authentic research experiences benefit undergraduate students in a variety of ways.
“From a big picture standpoint, these types of research experiences have shown to be instrumental in helping students better understand science and feel connected to the research community,” Kagey said. “Additionally, students who take CURE courses have been shown to be more likely to complete STEM degrees and pursue science careers.”
The grant is part of NSF’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) program, which seeks to enhance STEM education for undergraduate students by using different approaches and new knowledge about teaching and learning. It covers assessments of students taking part in Fly-CURE and their experiences, as well as an annual consortium meeting on Detroit Mercy’s McNichols Campus, where students and faculty can share their findings.
“We are interested to know if there is a relationship between the number of different research experiences you have as a student correlates with any perceived gains you receive in the class,” Kagey said.