From Science Students to Scientists
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Posted by: Christina Mimms
By Barbara Kennedy, Director of External Affairs, Baylor School, Chattanooga, TN
Even before the announcement that the Tennessee Aquarium would relocate its freshwater research facility to Baylor School’s Chattanooga, TN, campus, Baylor’s science department chair Dr. Dawn Richards and her colleagues began paving the way for advanced research experiences for highly motivated students in grades 10-12 through a new Scientific Analysis and Research Program.
The process began in fall 2014 with the addition of an Upper School course in limnology (freshwater science). In 2015, the development of a scientific analysis and research program was put into motion and advanced science research classes were made available to students during course registration last spring. This year, students enrolled in Richards’ advanced research classes have been using molecular biology techniques to extract DNA from plants found on the Baylor campus.
“They have analyzed the gathered DNA sequence data and are producing a DNA barcode database,” explains Richards. “Their goal is to establish a baseline for plant biodiversity on which future research students will build. This longitudinal study will help identify invasive, native, and threatened species, and allow us to identify future shifts due to perturbations like climate change.”
Richards says the course provides the opportunity for students to work closely with faculty mentors on real-world research projects. At the end of each year, the students are required to present their research topic at the Baylor STEAM symposium that takes place each May.
Senior Gabby Gray says science has always been a favorite subject, but the research class has taken it to a new level. “When I think of that class, it’s a lot of hard work and critical thinking. If you really want to contribute and publish and add to the field, then you’re going to have to do hours of reading papers and thinking about what you’re reading. I think it’s exciting because you’re finding out something new every single paper you read, and the information is all there and it’s all off of what other people have done.”
“The skills the students learned during the first semester launched them into independent projects the following semester,” continues Richards. “Projects include continued research on the problems associated with pharmaceuticals released into the Tennessee River, the toxicity of microplastics ingested by aquatic organisms, and the potential delivery of pathogenic bacteria by microplastics released from wastewater.”
A Closer Look at Baylor’s Scientific Analysis and Research Program
Interested in creating a similar program at your school? Here’s an overview of the Upper School’s three-year scientific analysis and research program...
Sophomores who elect to choose the research program first decide on an area such as microbiology, cellular biology, toxicology, limnology, genetics, etc. Students are assigned a research mentor and begin developing a set of research questions, which they present in the form of a literature review to a committee at the end of each quarter. Their research topic and questions are presented at the Baylor STEAM symposium in May.
As they enter their junior year, this cohort of students will be encouraged to enroll in advanced research courses such as scientific investigations and honors limnology. Using their sophomore literature review, they will spend the first semester refining their research questions and developing hypotheses. In the second semester, students begin their original research and present their findings at the Baylor STEAM symposium in May. During the summer leading into their senior year, students have the opportunity to conduct research in their field and work with their mentor to gauge progress.
As seniors, they will continue their research and begin work on their final research papers. They may elect to submit their research at conferences and for national and regional competitions, and they will mentor sophomores who are entering the literature phase of their research. Their final research findings will be presented at the Baylor STEAM symposium in May, and they will graduate with the confidence and ability to pursue STEAM majors in college.