Program Affords Science Students Added Research-Based Learning Opportunities

May 26, 2017

Male student in Laboratory Seventeen upper-level students majoring in biology at University Campus have taken part in a new six-week opportunity that has allowed them to practice applied research and laboratory techniques under the guidance of three science faculty members.

Rising juniors and seniors had to compete for openings in the Summer Undergraduate Research Initiative (SURI). The initiative works on many levels to help the aspiring scientists and medical professionals expand and deepen their learning, which in turn should help them progress in their fields. While biology majors complete many laboratory courses, the students are often carrying out experiments that have already been structured for them to illustrate foundational knowledge. SURI helps students make the leap to initiate and conduct research.

SURI projects include elements of computational biology, molecular biology, plant physiology, botany, ecological techniques, and drug design. Students generate and process the data from their studies with the encouragement of professors who hold doctorates in various branches of biology and ecology, Dr. Audrey Shor, Dr. Chris Miller, and Dr. Sergiy Borysov.

By the time the project is completed May 31, the participating students will be more adept at the practical aspects of laboratory work, but the benefits don’t end there. Applied research can help students better understand and retain challenging concepts. Working closely with caring faculty should help students stay motivated. So, the faculty will be watching to see if these students, do in fact, earn higher grades in content areas such as molecular biology.

Saint Leo science faculty already have reason to expect this. With each new graduating class, the faculty note that some of the highest-achieving biology students are ones who have been part of summer research internships, or similar programs. SURI is not meant to take the place of external research programs that exist elsewhere. But spots in such external summer research programs are limited in number and highly competitive. Additionally, some students lack the financial means to travel to other cities and cover their living expenses for the duration of the program. International students enrolled at Saint Leo may not be able to apply to some programs because seats are limited to U.S. citizens.

Students in Kayak

SURI broadens the opportunities for these biology majors. As biology is the flagship program of the School of Arts and Sciences—with a significant enrollment and growing reputation—the administration saw fit to invest in the resources needed to sponsor the program. The students do not have to pay tuition or fees for materials and field trips. Housing on campus is also supplied to the students without cost, as well as many of their meals.

Saint Leo provides continuing research opportunities for its biology students so that graduates of SURI (as well as classmates who are not part of the initiative) can join in other projects during the academic year, if they have not already. Some students work with Dr. Bill Ellis on MangroveWatch, an ongoing marine ecology project to monitor the health of Florida mangroves using trained citizen-scientists for observation and data recording. Another project involving Dr. Shor and other faculty members is called CREST, for Connecting Researchers, Educators and Students. Undergraduates become involved in a range of hands-on projects meant to promote a greater understanding of the process of science and to give more young people confidence in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In past academic years, Saint Leo students involved in CREST have visited science classes at nearby high schools with guest presentations.

Students evaluating laboratory calculations  Students in Greenhouse
Male student working on image reporting in laboratory   two students in a kayak
Male student working in laboratory   Students working on record keeping out doors
Students working on plant propagation techniques   Three female students in laboratory