St. Olaf College | News

Biology professor earns NSF grant to enhance course-based research

St. Olaf College Professor of Biology Eric Cole will use a new grant from the National Science Foundation to enhance course-based research.

St. Olaf College Professor of Biology Eric Cole has consistently worked to provide his students with rich, hands-on laboratory experiences, ideally leading to publication.

Now, with the support of a new grant from the National Science Foundation, he is working to help faculty members across the country do the same.

Cole, along with members of the Ciliate Genomics Consortium, will develop and deliver advanced workshops to train cell biology teachers in the use of a model organism — Tetrahymena thermophila — within the classroom.

In addition to that, they are pioneering a new type of online publication that will enable undergraduates to post their novel gene-discovery data on the Tetrahymena Genomic Database.

“This allows undergraduates to ‘publish’ data immediately in a novel form that can be accessed by the ciliate research community,” Cole says.

The goal of this work is to engage more undergraduates in research experiences through course-based projects. It will also create more opportunities for teaching-research integration and student publication.

The Ciliate Genomics Consortium is a student-centered, nationwide collaborative learning community that integrates genomics research into courses in a variety of biology sub-disciplines. The consortium utilizes Tetrahymena thermophila for discovering gene functions due to the cell’s easy growth and husbandry as well as its molecular similarity to human tissue.

Previously, the consortium developed modular course-based curricula that engaged greater numbers of students in research while simultaneously advancing the research efforts of faculty members.

“We were experimenting by linking classroom activities during the school year with research activities in the summer,” says Cole. “This time, we are trying to link resources across institutions, departments, and classrooms.”

Cole’s work has been funded by the National Science Foundation in recent years. His Gene Stream initiative, which introduced bridge projects between courses, laid the foundation for current efforts with the consortium.