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, December 13, 2010

TERF Symposium is coming!

Save the date! Be sure to mark the TERF Symposium on that new 2011 calendar!

TERF Symposium
Saturday, January 22, 2011
2:00 - 4:00 pm
Living Learning Center at Tyson Research Center

Please RSVP by Monday, January 17 to or 314.935.4217

Monday, October 25, 2010

TERFers at Wash U Undergraduate Research Symposium

The TERFers had three posters on display at the Washington University Undergraduate Research Symposium on Saturday, October 23, 2010. It was exciting to have these high school students sharing their summer research experiences alongside undergraduate students. There were visits to the posters from biology department faculty, undergraduate students who worked with the TERFers during their time at Tyson, and several proud parents.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

TERF posters under construction

On Saturday, September 25th the TERFers got together to begin work on posters! It was great to see everyone together for the first time since orientation back in May. Well, almost everyone. It is very hard to corral busy high school students from all around the St. Louis area, but we did get 11 of 18 to meet up in the Tyson Living Learning Center computer lab.

We started off with a quick slide show from the Tyson Olympics on the last day of the field season. And then I asked the TERFers to share their best and worst from the summer experience.

Some of the BEST comments were related to a sense of accomplishment - finishing the tree plot, finishing the prairie plots, catching more bees than another team. Other comments were related to specific tasks or teams - soil testing with Kristin Powell, working with tadpoles on the chytrid fungus project, visiting all of the tick research sites, counting frog eggs, getting a private tour of the Insectarium at the Saint Louis Zoo. And a couple of comments were about the sense of community - meeting people, participating in the Tyson Olympics.

Many of the WORST comments were about certain really hard tasks - working in the tree plot (x2), cleaning bottles, glade clearing (x4). A couple of comments were related to common field conditions - getting ticks, and feeling embarrassed about being muddy when returning to the Forest Part Visitor's Center. And again there were a few comments related to the sense of community - saying goodbye was hard, and hating being too busy to come back (x2).

We finally turned our discussion to the research communication part of the TERF program. There was consensus that BIODIVERSITY should be the overarching key message and it was decided that in the interest of getting three posters completed for the October 23rd symposium, the group should focus on three particular research project areas as representations of the importance of biodiversity.
  • Forest Census Research
  • Pollination Research
  • Invasive Species Research
The TERFers assigned themselves to work groups and then started to tackle text and photos for each poster. Everyone has created a free account so that they can access all of the photos from the summer. And some have even created a Google group so that they can collaborate between the poster work sessions.

There was also talk of taking TERF presentations to the high schools, both as a way to communicate the importance of the field research and as a way to help recruit for the final SIFT cohort of the NSF ISE project. I will be e-mailing teachers at each of the TERFers' schools to see what we can set up for later this fall and winter. TERF Cohort 1 was interested in the TERF on Tour idea, but we were unable to get a coordinated effort. I suspect that Cohort 2 will make this happen!

Geralle Powell smiles at one of the group photos from June

(foreground, l to r) Franklin Warner, Alex Samuels, and Taylor Rohan get started on writing about invasive species research
while (background, l to r) Ben Howard and Adrienne Ernst share stories of catching bees in Forest Park

(l to r) Max Margherio and Jessica Plaggenberg start work on a poster describing the forest census project

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fall TERFy Activities

The school year is in finally in full swing and with that comes the inevitable filling up of student calendars with homework, projects, and extracurricular activities. I realize we are asking a lot of our TERFers to stay engaged with the TERF program after the excitement of the summer internship work is over...

But, that being said, I've managed to get some responses from the Cohort 2 TERFers via a Doodle. (Cool tool for finding the best times to meet.) Here are some activities scheduled for the very near future:

Saturday, September 25th, 1:00-4:00 pm

The plan for our first fall meeting is to use the Tyson LLC computer lab to get started on a few collaborative research communication posters to be included in a symposium at Wash U. We will need to decide which research projects we would like to focus on and then divvy up the work of crafting text, selecting photos, doing the layout, etc.

Saturday, October 9th, 1:00-4:00 pm

Second meeting to keep the ball rolling on the posters...

Saturday, October 23rd

Undergraduate Research Symposium at Washington University Danforth Campus
  • 10:00 am poster set up - we will help the Undergraduate Research Office get posters attached to display boards
  • 12:00 noon symposium - we will take turns standing by our posters and walking around to view other posters (especially those of the undergrads we worked with at Tyson during the summer!)
We are very fortunate to be allowed to participate in this symposium. The Cohort 1 TERFers did attend the event last year, but did not have posters ready in time. It will be a great opportunity to see how undergraduate students present their research to the university community and to practice our own poster talks.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Tyson Olympics!

The end of field season would not be complete without some sort of Tyson Olympics. This year the final afternoon field frolic kicked off with a scavenger hunt that took three teams on a whirlwind tour of research areas and some lesser known sites on the property. Extra points were awarded for creative photo documentation...

Two indoor challenges were based on authentic research tasks. The Pollinator Pinning required two members of
a team to identify gummy bears by color, cut out appropriate tags, and then tag and pin the bears (face down through the thorax) to a cardboard grid using toothpicks.

TERFer Taylor Rohan (l) is confident in her team's pinning prowess, but post-doctoral researcher Dr. Laura Burkle (r) takes her judging responsibilities very seriously.

The Prairie Plant Sort required teams to sort mixed pasta samples (biomass) into 6 different type of noodles (plant species) and then key out the noodles with a dichotomous key.

A new addition to the final day of the field season was a water slide with discharge into a mud pit. Many thanks go to Pete Jamerson and Tim Derton for design and construction!

Alex Strauss claims that it didn't hurt too much going down

Brett Decker almost makes it to the end

Amber Burgett is all smiles before impact!

TERFer Jessica Plaggenberg braves the rough terrain

July TERFers

Max Margherio, Maddie Brandt, Geralle Powell, Cia West, Jane Fitzsimmons, Amy Dai (kneeling), Kelly McKinley, Ben Howard, Katie Pfaff

And, since Ahmed Said was SO busy with the Tick Team, he gets his own picture.

The July TERF session went out with a bang! Glades were cleared, pollinators were pinned, aquatic sampling was completed in record time, and the Tyson forest census plot was re-gridded and new data collection has started. So much good work has been going on that many researchers are keeping some July TERFers busy into August!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

TERF Cohort 1 Reunion

It took some doing, but we managed to get most of the members of TERF Cohort 1 in one place at one time! This faithful group of trail blazers for the SIFT and TERF programs got together for dinner at Tyson on Monday, July 26th.

Notice program evaluator Dr. Kathi Beyer (l) clicking away at her Mac, just like old times...

There was sharing of memories from SIFT Summer 2008 and TERF Summer 2009. There was talk of summer jobs, college plans, determined and undetermined majors, and an unexpected request to attend the SIFT/TERF Winter Weekend in January 2011. (Aw, of course you guys can come!)

Back row (l to r): Emily Stein, Mary Bujnak, Asad Helal, Jenise Davies, Ellie Stoops

Front row (l to r): Pete McCall, Ashaki Hall, Tess Rogers, Josef Kanak, Hannah Bailey

Monday, June 28, 2010

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ANTS! (Gotcha, huh?)

Friday started nice and early, with what has to be the first time nobody had to be forced from their beds in the morning. After a nice breakfast, it was Jame's day to shine! Yes, today was Ant day. It started with James handing out an ID guide to common ground foraging ants in Missouri, and the kids broke into groups. They were all given 2 kinds of bait, a cookie and some bologna, and set out to observe what ants they could find. The better part of the morning was spent examining the adorable little critters and trying to decide which ants were which (Well this one's small and black, wait, they're all small and black... well shoot). Then before lunch Lydia talked about composing a research questions and the SIFTers made up their own. After lunch they shared their research projects and as a group reviewed and and did trouble shooting with them to see how they could get the best results and the all important FUNDING. After lunch the dreaded SURVEY!!!!! As well as filling out other paperwork that was a lot faster and was for them getting paid, which I guess is why they didn't mind it as much seeing as there were no complaints about that part of the afternoon. Finally, after much exchanging of emails we wrapped up the week with an ice cream sundae bar (get the title now? Get it? Get it?!). The bus arrived and we said farewell to Session 3, to return again over the summer on various research projects and for the winter overnight!

Overnight :)

After a hard day in the field, we moved out SIFTers into their cabins and let them relax with some free time. This was spent generally chatting and playing some frisbee. After a little while we corralled them all back to watch the ever-popular Ant Video. We got through half of it before we were forced to pause it (to much protest) so that the kids could get a chance to talk to the visiting scientist before dinner. Rotating through in groups, the SIFTers leaned about the research being done with clover, mosquito populations in response to bat kills caused by White Nose, Ants from our own Dr. Trager(James), and glades. This was followed by a WONDERFUL dinner and the rest of the Ant Video. The kids learned what the word Crupuscular meant on the night hike as well as witnessing some animals(the "rare" swamp rabbits, frogs, and a bull frog that was a leaf that was a frog that was, indeed, alive) while walking through the wetlands and prairie. And who could forget the visit to the graveyard! A good time was had by all, and the SIFTers returned to black lighting with James and a roaring bonfire with s'mores. We all went around the circle and talked about our favorite parts of the week before retiring to the VERY popular shower house and bed. Well, and the required talking and card games before sleep of course. Overall it was a very nice evening.

A look on the Dry Side with Terrestrial Ecosystems

Never have we ever had as much luck with weather as we did on Thursday! The humidity broke and the temperature only hit the 80's. Needless to say it was a wonderful start to a wonderful day! The morning started with James giving an overview of what kinds of plants would be found in the field today and a practice session in identifying them. Then it came the time to actually use these skills! Out SIFTers headed out into the tall grass prairie and using highly scientific equipment(hoola-hoops, soil samplers, and their eyes) proceeded to sample the soil and plants found there. Then after lunch the students hopped into the van and truck and headed off at a raring 15 mph to the Glade! The flowers were in full bloom here and the SIFTers went out to sample once more. Many discoveries were made here (the soil in glades smells AMAZING, watch for the scent to come out bottles. We're all waiting anxiously Amun!), and a new, well I won't say enemy, was made. The SIFTers, brave things, met one of Shaw's overly friendly inhabitants: the dreaded Sweat Bee. They made it through remarkably well, and they weren't alone. Aileen helped them out by attracting the bulk of them to her, way to take one for the team Aileen! While by the glade the students also got a chance to sample some woodland, and then back at the Dana Brown compiled graphs and charts of all this new data.

June TERFers

Back row: Amy Fjerstad, Jason Zhang, Franklin Warner
Front row: Alex Samuels, Jessica Plaggenberg, Adrienne Ernst, Chloe Pinkner, Taylor Rohan

Sigh. The June session of TERF has come to a close. However, high quality work and high demand from researchers has put many TERFers on-call for work this week!

It's all about Moose Tracks and Double Strawberry ice cream!

The end of TERF session debrief in the cave tradition continues...

A Very Humid Aquatics Day!

Ah, Aquatics Day! The much awaited, highly anticipated day where the SIFTers get to get their feet wet. The day where we would be outside virtually all day. They day where the heat index topped 100 degrees. Oh well, didn't stop us! If anything, the heat let the students get more time with our much beloved Wilderness Wagon, the limo of Shaw Nature Reserve. After arriving and filling up snack containers, the SIFTers wasted no time and went to board their sweet ride down to Wolf Run Lake. Here, the students divvied up into 2 groups and tested both the water quality and sampled some of the many macro invertebrates living in the Lake. Special attention was paid to the conditions of the water samples as well as location, and on the biotic side of things a MONSTER fishing spider was captures and put on display until we left (it STILL gives me chills and this was a week ago... it was huge). SIFTers also got a good look at at the fish, most notably the very large catfish, during the fish feeding and then it was off to the trail house for lunch (no air conditioning though, they were too tough for that!). After a nice lunch we all packed off to Brush Creek, where the kids got there feet wet water testing and collecting what seems to be an inexhaustible number of crayfish. The water was nice and cold and I heard more than one murmuring of "Think I could just say I fell in?", but everybody stayed dry for the most part. The day was wrapped up in the nice cool air conditioning of Dana Brown with a debrief and posters compiled of the data collected that day.

Observing Isopods on a Warm Tuesday Morning.

Tuesday was a day set aside to observe the noble isopods. SIFTers were given two types of these little critters and set about observing physical and behavioral characteristics. I have never seen so many teenagers looking up into clear ups before in my life, it was truly a sight to behold. Of course, how else cold you get all the details of them! After a discussion of what questions could be researchable and other simply looked up, our students got a chance to stretch their legs with a little excursion to the Wetlands. Aileen led a lovely stroll to observe this interesting habitat and many questions were asked and a few tracks of water-loving mammals found. Then back to the nice air-conditioned Dana Brown to have lunch. A communication kills activity was played, where upon the students had to get into an line alphabetically by their last names. Without talking. Also not being able to step off the rope they were all standing on. It was interesting to say the lest. Then that afternoon our SIFTers learned how to do water testing and had some practice interpreting the what the data could mean for that water source. There was a wildlife encounter for one water-testing group that was cut short (literally) when after FINALLY catching the Blue-Tailed skink that had been slinking around the porch it's tail came off and well, we just didn't have the heart to pass it around to other groups then. He was released to go re-grow his tail and much hope was made that the other skinks wouldn't make fun of him for his shortened rear-end.

Session 3 Has a HOT Start!

Session 3 of SIFT started out much like Session 1 except for the fact that it was about 20 degrees hotter. But these students didn't let that stop them! The morning started out as usual with some getting-to-know-each-other activities which produced some very interesting results (for once Lydia wasn't the only gardener!). So after a lovely morning spent getting to know one another, learning about outdoor safety, and discussing wether or not science is complete the kids also got a chance to practice their nature sketching! Catrina led a talk over how to do quick sketches that could still be recognizable later, a skill many people overlook and live to regret doing so. Lunch was then had, and then the real fun began. Aileen taught a crash-course in GPS units (not the car kind) and compasses while Catrina taught the SIFTers all about topographic maps and what they can learn from them. Our students were then divvied up into 6 teams, given directions, and then sent out into the wilderness to... navigate! While the first three groups got a head start, the other three got the chance to put together a large wooden puzzle, blindfolded. Oh don't give us that look! Only half of them were blindfolded, the others helped them put it together. All 6 teams successfully made it to the trail house using their recently accuired navigation skills with only a few wrong turns here and there, and were met with cold lemonade and posters. The groups all complied lovely lists of the skills they learned, content they covered, and ways in which they collaborated (the first on the list being tick removal. Yay teamwork!). Then after making up short stories using vocabulary words (oh that Turkeytoe!) our brave, hot, and weary SIFTers headed for home.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Session 1 SIFTers get to work!

The first field work opportunity for newly-trained SIFTers came early this year. The prairie research team at Tyson Research Center put out a call for help and six SIFTers and one former TERFer answered the call on Monday, June 21st!

Dr. Tiffany Knight (Washington University) and Dr. Michele Schutzenhofer (McKendree University) are investigating the effects of different experimental treatments in 102 separate prairie plots in the south field area of Tyson. Right now they are conducting a biomass sampling of each plot and need help sorting the plant clippings by species.

Loading up to go see the prairie plots

Dr. Knight points out plants to Tom Collins.

Monica Lee gives a thumbs up as the SIFTers run uphill through a new experimental glade

(Foreground) Bryan Rosinski and Milena Kanak work together to separate plant clippings from a single plot, while (background) Tom Collins gets instruction from McKendree undergraduate student Kaitlyn

Dr. Schutzenhofer (left) works with Kenn and Lynn Vattathara on the last plot sorting of the long day