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.

Monday, July 20, 2009

July Group Highlights

While each research team goes its own way in the field, there are several opportunities for the TERF group, as well as all of the staff and researchers at Tyson, to reconvene. One of them is the Natural History Session and July is off to a wonderful start.

The first Natural History Session on July 9th was led by staff ecological technician Travis Mohrman. The subject was Wilderness Survival and above, he shares his knowledge with the TERF teens.

The second Natural History Session on July 16th was a tour of the neighboring Wild Canid Center that most Tysonians see every day, but usually don't get to explore. Here, two TERF teens and two undergrads try to spot Mexican wolves in one of the sanctuary's expansive enclosures.

In addition to the beautiful, cooler weather, July's second week was particularly sweet because there were two reasons to celebrate.

The first was TERF teen Crystal's birthday. Above, she carves the cake we provided as an end-of-day surprise.

The second was a grant awarded to Dr. Jon Chase, Dr. Brian Allan and another research collaborator. The funding will support tick research, so the researchers decided to celebrate with red velvet cupcakes in the likeness of engorged ticks.

All in a day's work...

Session two, half-way through

Somehow, we're already through the first two weeks of the second session of TERF. Here's an update:

On the 6th of July, group 2 was introduced to the field station in the manner that has now become tradition: The Tour de Tyson Challenge.

Here, (with the help of a strategically placed clue outside the entrance) they make the acquaintance of the 310 lab building, which is used for various indoor analysis tasks.

Before long, they settled in to their research teams. A new team, affectionately termed "The Plant Consortium", was formed for this session to capture the overlapping research interests and similar study systems of Dr. Tiffany Knight, Dr. Tim Dickson and Dr. Laura Burkle.

Here, TERF teens Cassandra, Shayla and Mary of the plant consortium pin and label pollinator specimens.

Here, Jenise - another TERF member of the plant consortium - works with an undergraduate on her team to collect data. These small blue tubs are currently scattered across Tyson as part of a project studying herbivory and flowering success in invasive purple loosestrife.

The other two research teams - the aquatic team and the tick team - took on their new teens and embarked on some new tasks for July.

Following the first week of July, the aquatic team has been largely based on-site, sampling cattle tanks. Here, aquatic TERFers Ashaki and Crystal assist with sampling efforts.

Here, Emily - a tick team TERFer - assists undergraduate Gena Pang with maintenance of the containers that house lizards and mice during her tick feeding preference study.

With a welcome break from the heat over the last few days, session 2 has been a great success, thus far.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Assessment between the June and July TERF sessions

As we did for the first summer of SIFT programming, we scheduled a week in between the sessions of TERF for formative assessment. We definitely wanted to allow time to assess how the first session went and what changes need to be put in place for the next session. Last night the research team leaders, TERF staff, SIFT program director, and evaluator all met to debrief the first session and talk about moving forward into July.

Our external evaluator Dr. Kathi Beyer captured pages and pages of qualitative data from her interviews and observations, and quantitative data was provided through the results of climate surveys. We had the TERF teens complete a climate survey on each Friday afternoon of the four week internship. We also asked the research team leaders and field mentors to complete climate surveys at the ends of Week 1 and Week 4. All of this information provided us with assessment of both participant and mentor perspective, and ultimately with a more objective view of the first TERF session.

The good news is that the model we have implemented appears to be working!

There was some surprise at the high level of physical work and occasional monotony of tasks, but we have excited and engaged teens learning new skills and new content within an authentic research environment. And along the way they are gaining respect for the persistence and dedication required of field research.

Overall, the research team leaders appear to be pleased with the integration of the teens into their research projects. However, there were some bumps along the way, and there appears to be a difference in the experiences of large teams versus small teams. One-on-one tiny teams have a vastly different vibe compared to large teams with more than one TERF teen assigned. Consequently we have decided to form a "Plant Consortium" to make a larger team of three smaller research groups.

Other than the loose union of plant-related projects, there did not appear to be major change needed in the TERF session design. The communication lines and transportation logistics are all functioning well. There will be some additional topics to be covered during the on-boarding of the next set of teens. All research teams will make sure to present detailed project overviews to their assigned teens as a first thing, and the TERF staff will place additional emphasis on field safety, work level expectations, and hierarchy.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

TERF June and the weekly Tyson natural history sessions

While immersion in a specific research team is at the core of the TERF experience, there was exposure to different field areas through the Tyson natural history sessions. These weekly morning sessions offer chance for experts on each team to share some of their knowledge with everyone at Tyson and a great opportunity for the teens to explore a field different from their respective assignments.

Katherine, along with the rest of the teens on terrestrial teams, got her first chance to sample ponds during the aquatic natural history session.

Dr. Brian Allan and
Dr. Kevin Smith led the birding natural history session, acquainting the TERFers with binoculars, as well as the birds that happened to cross their path that morning.

Later that morning, Kevin directed the teens to guidebooks and merely supervised as they identified the birds they observed.

During the mammal natural history session, Josef, Yanwen and the rest of the TERFers got an early start to prevent trapped critters from overheating in the 90-degree weather that was typical of the first session. Here, Dr. Brian Allan explains how he handles mice in order to collect the data necessary for his study.

Pete got the hang of small mammal handling and made a new friend.

Brian ended the mammal session by reviewing footage from several baited camera traps.