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Enhancing Diversity in Environmental Biology (EDEB)

What are the major goals of the project?

The goal of this Tulane/Xavier Undergraduate Research Mentoring (URM) project, Enhancing Diversity in Environmental Biology (EDEB), is to recruit and mentor underrepresented minority undergraduate students from Xavier and Tulane Universities and prepare them to gain admission and successfully complete graduate programs in environmental biology.

What has been accomplished under these goals?

  • major activities
  • specific objectives
  • significant results, including major findings, developments, or conclusions (both positive and negative)
  • key outcomes or other achievements

In the summer of 2012 we recruited 7 new interns from Xavier and Tulane. Students were selected based on GPA, recommendation letters and specific interest in the field. Information regarding the EDEB program was disseminated using flyer, office of freshman studies and announcement in the classrooms.

The newly selected interns were enrolled in an intensive, five-week short course in environmental biology research techniques (Environmental Biotechniques, EB 101) accompanied by lectures. This course exposed a new community of undergraduate students to the basic techniques currently employed in environmental biology research. All students received training in scientific principles of research, research ethics, networking, and publication as essentials in a research career.

Upon successful completion of the techniques course in the summer, students were placed in the lab of a Tulane or Xavier URM project faculty. The following spring, students were allowed to continue a related project in the Tulane or Xavier-partnered laboratory. Students who completed one semester of research with a faculty mentor presented their work at the Student Research Symposium hosted by Tulane University. Also, the iinterns presented their work at the festival of scholars organized by the Xavier University Center for Undergraduate Research. This year five interns of our URM program presented their research work at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS).

What opportunities for training and professional development has the project provided?

The students in this project have many opportunities for training and professional development. All students participate in a summer program in which they are trained to think as research scientists, including scientific methods and ethics. These professional training exercises are conducted through out the program. Professional development opportunities are provided by the participation of students in a research symposium held at Tulane for students and faculty. Professional development and training are further provided by the participation of students in the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) meeting. Travel costs are covered by the project and project staff or faculty accompanies the students. There are numerous training sessions at the meeting as well as each of our students has the opportunity to present their work to their colleagues.

How have the results been disseminated to communities of interest?

As part of the recruitment effort, there is widespread dissemination through print media, oral presentations, word of mouth communications and web based media of the richness of undergraduate research in environmental sciences. This information reaches students, faculty and staff at both Tulane and Xavier Universities. Parents are also often informed.

What is the impact on the development of the principal discipline(s) of the project?

The project has direct impact on the teaching of environmental biology, but incorporating a multidisciplinary approach across the sub disciplines of cell and molecular biology, chemical engineering, chemistry, pharmacology, ecology, water resource management, air quality engineering, and soil contaminant intervention. It engages undergraduate students in the topic by moving them from very basic biology to applied science.

What is the impact on other disciplines?

The multidisciplinary nature of the project introduces faculty from different backgrounds to the principles and techniques of other disciplines enhancing the capacity of faculty to see and incorporate other approaches to their work.

What is the impact on the development of human resources?

By recruiting under-represented minority students the project has a direct and immediate impact on the diversity of environmental science in general and environmental biology in particular. Students with little or no background in the concept of postgraduate work in the sciences are recruited through a variety of techniques and provided with the tools to envisage and participate in a future of scientific research. Graduate work in the environmental fields is very deficient in minority members and practitioners at the work force level are very few. This project will have a measurable impact.

What is the impact on physical resources that form infrastructure?

One impact is the allocation of a conference room and student workspace on the Tulane downtown campus and one resource lab on each of the three participating campuses.

What is the impact on institutional resources that form infrastructure?

The project has provided an umbrella for emerging research projects that seek to recruit minority undergraduate student researchers. For example, a major (funding?) multi-instituional research project on the chemistry of oil dispersants housed in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Tulane University shares the same project manager and some faculty mentors as this project. The annual meeting held at Tulane now also involves students and faculty members from both projects.

What is the impact on society beyond science and technology?

This may be the biggest impact of the project. By exposing under-represented minority students to STEM disciplines at the interface of undergraduate and graduate levels the scientific literacy of our country is materially improved for a generation. Students who do not go on to graduate school in this project are irrevocably imprinted with the sense of excitement and importance that is generated by being part of the scientific endeavor. But how would you ever quantitate this?