This educational collaboration between Washington University's Tyson Research Center and the Missouri Botanical Garden's Shaw Nature Reserve is designed to engage St. Louis area high school students in scientifically-based exploration of the natural world. Linked programs of field training (SIFT) and field research (TERF) provide teenagers with experiences that realistically reflect research in environmental biology. Participating teens learn a variety of field investigation skills and then have the opportunity to put those new skills to work assisting career scientists with real research projects.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The SIFT Winter Weekend - Saturday, January 31st

What an amazing two-day adventure with the SIFT teens! We had a jam-packed schedule of activities that took us all over the St. Louis area.

We started at 9:00 am on Saturday at the Commerce Bank Education Center (CBEC) of the Missouri Botanical Garden. Nothing starts off a SIFT session better than an ice-breaker activity with Aileen!

Next, we were off to the Monsanto Research Center for tours of the MBG Herbarium, Library, and Rare Books Collection. Getting to see a first edition of "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection" was rather cool. Plus the 16th century herbals - amazing to realize that many of the oldest books are about plants!

We had a pizza lunch break back at the CBEC building and then loaded up the bus for the SIFTers first trip out to Tyson Research Center.

Everyone seemed surprised that the big hill I described was actually a BIG hill! But, the hike was worth it to see the oak-hickory forest in the snow.

Making the acquaintance of a local marsupial

Ice formations at the entrance to the quarry cave

After dragging ourselves back to the headquarters building we enjoyed presentations from Tyson scientists James Watling and Laura Burkle. They did a great job of explaining how they went from being high school students to becoming research ecologists with PhDs. As Laura explained in one slide, it is often not a straight line...

At around 4:00 pm we took the bus out to Shaw Nature Reserve and got comfortable in the overnight lodges. It was nice to get our boots off and enjoy pre-dinner conversations with field scientists Amber Burgett, Nic Kooyers, Catrina Adams, Nels Holmberg, and James Trager.

Dinner was followed by research presentations from Amber and Catrina. Everyone got a good laugh from some of the "most embarrassing field research moments" that they shared.

And no overnight at Shaw would be complete without a night hike, campfire, S'mores, and sharing circle...

Tyson Specimen Inventory Project

We offered an indoor work project at Tyson Research Center on Saturday, January 17th. Four SIFTers worked with Tyson scientists Kevin Smith and Travis Mohrman to inventory the large collection of vertebrate specimens housed in the Tyson research bunker. Eventually SIFTers will help set up a computerized catalogue file and update the taxonomic and systematics information for the specimens.

Learning about the project goals (and getting used to the smell of the bunker!)

Explaining which bones are left in and which bones are taken out

Okay, it's a rodent, but which rodent???

Basics of bird identification

Getting to know the field guides

SIFT Cohort 1 Fall Field Projects

As part of the academic year component of the SIFT program, the teens are offered opportunities to work on authentic field research and restoration projects. We were lucky to have quite a variety of projects and dates available to the SIFTers during the fall months of 2008.
  • 9/6/08 through 12/13/08 (15 Saturdays) Impacts of an Invasive Plant on Biodiversity at Busch Conservation Area
  • 9/6/08 Plant Inventory at Shaw Nature Reserve
  • 9/13/08 Missouri Stream Team at Shaw Nature Reserve
  • 9/20/08 Prairie Day event at Shaw Nature Reserve
  • 10/4/08 Tree Planting in Forest Park
  • 10/4/08 Tick Study at Shaw Nature Reserve
  • 10/11/08 Investigating Effects of Bush Honeysuckle on Amphibian and Reptile Communities at Busch Conservation Area
  • 10/18/08 Seed Collecting at Shaw Nature Reserve
  • 10/18/08 Missouri Stream Team at Shaw Nature Reserve
  • 11/1/08 Seed Collecting at Shaw Nature Reserve
  • 11/15/08 Using Population Genetics to Understand Cyanide Production in White Clover at Washington University
Grad student Nic Kooyers explaining cyanide production in clover as a deterrent to herbivory

So, What Have Those SIFTers Been Up To?

A lot!

But, obviously my desire to maintain this blog more frequently is not matching up to my ability to do so. (Sigh.)

The next few posts will be belated recaps of the rest of the fall and winter activities, and then once I'm caught up I'll dig in to the TERF program planning and the SIFT Cohort 2 recruitment.