Armstrong Receives National Science Foundation Grant

(May 7, 2013) Armstrong's Department of Biology has received close to $200,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Transforming Undergraduate Education in STEM (TUES) grant program. Armstrong received the funding for “Laboratories Engaging Students in the Application and Process of Science (LEAPS) in College-level Introductory Biology,” a new curriculum program that will enhance student laboratory engagement and provide interdisciplinary educational opportunities for students taking courses in the College of Science and Technology.

Armstrong Assistant Professor of Biology Traci Ness will lead the grant project, along with biology faculty Jennifer B. Bailey, Melanie A. Link-Perez, and Scott C. Mateer. The grant will allow the College of Science and Technology to offer a new introductory biology course for biology majors and allied health majors from the College of Health Professions.

The new course will adapt “Discover the Microbes Within! The Wolbachia Project,” an inquiry-based laboratory series that involves screening insects for the presence of the Wolbachia bacterium. The students will apply molecular techniques to determine the existence of Wolbachia and determine whether or not it has novel characteristics. Laboratory equipment and practices will be upgraded as a result of this curriculum change and grant funding. In addition, Armstrong students will gather specimens throughout Savannah's unique coastal environment and potentially make unique discoveries among insects that are not universally accessible outside the area. Students will collaborate in research teams to apply molecular techniques to evaluate the existence of Wolbachia in their insects and will share this information with the national Wolbachia Project database. The new curriculum also incorporates math, chemistry, computer science, and bioinformatics, allowing students to gain interdisciplinary skills and experience in a guided research environment.

The ultimate goal of the LEAPS grant program is to lead students and faculty into discovery-based coursework that involves cutting-edge techniques. Armstrong's College of Science and Technology is well known for the undergraduate research opportunities students have access to, and the new biology curriculum further enhances those opportunities. The new course will also be beneficial to allied health professions majors, who will be able to apply their research to the healthcare field. LEAPS will also contribute to the growing population of STEM professionals and STEM-trained individuals in the sciences and the health professions.