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.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

TERFers present at Wash U

On Saturday, October 22, 2011, the TERFers presented seven posters at the Washington University Undergraduate Research Symposium in Olin Library.

Dr. Tiffany Knight with uber-TERFer Taylor Rohan (r)

Alicia McCabe and Nina Fischer with their poster on Amber Burgett's dissertation research

WU undergraduates (and former TERFers!) Cassandra Galluppi and Emily Stein hear about the Tyson Forest Dynamics Plot from Aidan Kelly (r)

Bryan Rosinski (l) explains his work investigating the effects of fire on Lespedeza cuneata

Brendan Hellebusch (l) explains his work in the Tyson experimental prairie to Dr. Kathy Miller, chair of WU biology department

Mary Blair (r) explains her work collecting insects in the Tyson experimental glades

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fall SIFT Meeting

On Saturday, September 24 a group of 31 SIFTers made their way back to Shaw Nature Reserve for an eclectic mix of activities. Since this was the first meeting at SNR that involved large numbers of SIFTers from each of the three summer sessions, the day began with a small activity designed to help everyone get acquainted.

Next, everyone was divided into one of three groups and the remainder of the morning was spent examining a single habitat. One group studied a tallgrass prairie, another explored a glade, and the last a forest. Every participant had visited all three habitats during the June SIFT sessions. Their task on Saturday was to compare and contrast the current look of their assigned habitat with the way it appeared in June. Specifically, they were asked to note phenological changes in their habitat. After spending about an hour outside, the groups returned to the Assembly Building where each one was asked to create a short presentation on the changes that they had observed.

After lunch, The SIFTers remained in the same groups for their afternoon sessions. Each of the three groups participated in 2 out of the 3 following activities:

1) monarch butterfly tagging
2) grasshopper netting and identification
3) medicinal plants & how to make cordage

Only two monarchs were caught and tagged on Saturday, but there is no doubt that their fall migration is in full swing. A different group of students was able to tag 50 only 4 days later. Apparently, it's all about the weather...

The grasshopper groups netted and identified as many of the insects as they could find. Based on what the students said afterwards, this was an entertaining and informative session. Luckily, there was a decent variety of grasshoppers to be found.

The medicinal plant/cordage groups learned about plants that can alleviate various skin ailments like rashes, bites, stings, scrapes, and even exposure to poison ivy. In addition, they learned how to transform cattail leaves into cordage (a simple type of rope).

Overall, it was a good meeting and SNR's staff was pleased with the turnout. Many high school students tend to have a lot going on during weekends in the fall, so it was nice to see so many SIFTers finding time in their busy schedules to attend. Thanks SIFTers for another great meeting!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

SIFT GIS Training at WU

On Friday, August 5, many SIFTers participated in geographical information system (GIS) training at the Washington University Danforth Campus. Two 3-hour training sessions were taught by Deanna Lawlor from the Litzsinger Road Ecology Center, with support from a LREC intern and SIFT instructor Stephen Bean.

Monday, August 8, 2011


The SIFT and TERF programs were represented at the Ecological Society of America (ESA) 2011 conference in Austin, Texas.  The abstract below was accepted for presentation during the Education section's Community-Based Learning Poster Session on Monday, August 8 from 4:30-6:30 pm.

Making natural connections: An authentic field research collaboration
This NSF-funded 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 and field research provide the teenagers with experiences that realistically reflect scientific inquiry in ecology. The Shaw Institute for Field Training (SIFT) program is a one-week summer field training experience combined with 100 hours of additional training and field work. The Tyson Environmental Research Fellowship (TERF) program is a field research mentoring program designed to build on the foundation of skills taught in SIFT, applying them to on-going large-scale research projects. In both programs, participating teens learn a variety of field investigation skills and then have the opportunity to put those skills to work assisting career scientists with authentic research.
During summer 2012, a one-week professional training experience will be conducted with the goal of project replication at other biological field stations, marine laboratories, and nature reserves. The workshop will allow twenty professionals to engage in the project activities, gain understanding of the transformational experiences provided by the two programs, and work on strategies for replication at their home facilities.

This five-year project aims for engagement of a science research institution and career scientists in the execution of informal science education programming, bringing real and dynamic context to the science content. It will assess the success of integration of teenage immersion experiences into research activities at a university-based facility. And it will ultimately provide a model for integration of informal science education programming into the research and restoration projects at biological field stations and nature reserves.
A significant anticipated outcome for participating teens is that they will have increased interest in the scientific research process and environmental biology as a potential field of study in college. Preliminary results of participant survey analysis indicate statistically significant changes in self-reported measurements of awareness of environmental science careers, interest in environmental science careers, seriousness of potential environmental science career pursuit, confidence in completing environmental science activities, and confidence in college science/math course completion. It is hoped that participation in SIFT and TERF will help teens to see themselves as the much needed next generation of environmental scientists, and several members of the first cohort are now pursuing environmental biology and science majors in their first year at college.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

In her own words - TERFer Garima Thakkar

Participating in SIFT & TERF were probably some of the best decisions of my life. I've gained so much insight and knowledge into the scientific world - even I'm surprised at how much I know.

Before I started SIFT last year, I still hadn’t fully hit my I-love-the-environment phase and was kind of skeptical about it. I was soon intrigued by all the various activities we performed. Like making up our own dichotomous key for plants, or helping James Trager with his fascinating ant study. During this time I was starting to let go of my fear of nature and just let myself go with the flow. Overall, the SIFT program was a great experience to slowly and carefully expose me to the natural world.

This summer working at Tyson was an amazing experience! I really enjoyed the TERF program and one of the greatest things about working in a wonderful place like Tyson is all the different kinds of people you get to interact with. On your teams you are usually paired up with a post-doc, undergraduate, graduate student, and other high school students. Working on the same team almost everyday, not only helps you understand each other very well, but also creates a close-knit bond between everyone. Regardless, everyone at Tyson is super friendly and very happy to include each other in their activities. It’s such a wonderful atmosphere to work in!

Most importantly, you feel a sense of accomplishment and pride after you’re completed the TERF summer internship. I can proudly say that I’ve been pushed past my boundaries, introduced to new ideas I’d never even considered, and learned so many new things about this incredible environment that we are all a part of. Also, after completing how many summer jobs can you boast about having 537 chigger bites and still surviving? Not a lot. In the end, this program has really had a big impact on my life and I’m so very glad to be a part of my big, wonderful family at Tyson.

The SIFT & TERF programs have increased my awareness for the dangers/destruction that occurs to our environment on a daily basis. Also, they've shown me a different angle of science that I'd never seen before. Before entering into these programs, I had a very vague, stereotypical idea of what science was. Before, when I heard the word science or thought of a scientist, I always pictured a group of people wearing their white coats, holding their multi-colored test tubes and working away in their laboratory. Now that very word holds a very special meaning to me. Now, to me, a scientist can be anyone who has the curiosity to conduct research, strength to withstand possible failures, determination to continue forward, and the courage to never give up! :)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Butterfly Survey & MO Stream Team

It was another blazing hot day for a small group of 2011 SIFTers who visited the reserve on Tuesday, July 26. The morning was spent netting and identifying butterflies. Nearly 90 were identified in the course of a couple of hours. (Good work!) The following is a list of what was found:

1 Giant Swallowtail
6 Pipevine Swallowtails
10+ Spicebush Swallowtails
10+ Tiger Swallowtails
4 Zebra Swallowtails
1 Checkered White
8 Cloudless Sulphurs
2 Little Yellows
1 Eastern-tailed Blue
3 Buckeyes
2 Great Spangled Fritillary
6 Hackberry Butterflies
2 Red-spotted Purples
7 Silvery Checkerspots
10+ Silver-spotted Skippers
1 Southern Cloudy Wing
1 Eastern Dun Skipper
1 Roadside Skipper
1 Tawny-edged Skipper
2 Zabulon Skipper

And now for something completely different...

The afternoon was spent down at the Meramec River doing biotic and abiotic testing. Upon completing the testing, the SIFTers were happy to return to the education office and its air conditioning. The remainder of the afternoon was spent entering the data from the Meramec into the Missouri Stream Team website. One exciting find from the biotic testing was a dragonhunter nymph. The dragonhunter is a type of dragonfly that will prey upon other dragonflies, so it must be a pretty tenacious critter. It's a somewhat rare find around here and stirred Dr. Trager's interest enough to earn a spot on To see his photo of the dragonhunter captured that day visit (or look below). It might be hard to recognize in a two dimensional photo, but its abdomen is much flatter and more rounded than most dragonfly nymphs. For anyone who has seen quite a few of the other dragonfly nymphs common at SNR, this is a very unique looking creature.

Friday, July 29, 2011

In her own words - TERFer Alicia McCabe

SIFT and TERF became so much more to me than just a summer job or a camp for me. Before SIFT and TERF, I wasn’t as interested in science as I am now; SIFT and TERF completely opened my eyes to science and sparked the passion I now have today.

SIFT and TERF, I can honestly say, were some of the greatest programs I have ever done, and they offered me some of the best experiences possible. SIFT and TERF went beyond most programs as they allowed me to do the actual hands-on work and gain personal experience.

The knowledge and experience I’ve gained through these programs even surprises people sometimes – it’s valuable. It’s more than just learning about what field biology or ecology is, it’s actually going out and doing what people who have made this their career do, and doing it alongside them to learn even more. And, even if I don’t go into field biology or ecology specifically, these programs have given me many opportunities and inspired me to only pursue science even more.

I’ve been challenged, pushed, inspired, taught, and have had so much fun in the process; it’s helped me find where my interests are. It’s helped me come to the realization that science is my passion and the future career field I hope to pursue.

Besides just the science aspect of these programs, they’ve also also helped me find and form long lasting friendships as I’ve become even best friends with some of the people I met over a year ago, specifically in SIFT. And for these reasons, I TRULY hope these programs continue so that others can also experience and find a passion within science as I have.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Setting up new aquatic community research with Dr. Simon Hart

We have had many TERFers help with aquatic community research projects over the past few years, but this year we had the opportunity to get both SIFTers and TERFers up to their shoulders in new experimental tanks at Tyson!

Post-doctoral researcher Dr. Simon Hart is studying aquatic-plant community assembly in habitats of different sizes. To do this, he is artificially colonizing 112 ponds of varying sizes with 20 or so species of plants collected from ponds at Tyson and Shaw. During the first week of July, Simon had SIFTer and TERFer assistance getting the plants put into the experimental ponds. Helping with this project entailed the following tasks: (1) the aquatic plants were roughly rinsed to remove fish eggs, (2) the plants were separated and weighed, with the weight determining the amount required in ponds of different sizes, and (3) the plants were carefully and systematically added to the ponds (just like planting terrestrial plants, but underwater).

Friday, July 22, 2011

SIFTers are good at sifting prairie plants

It turns out that SIFTers (and TERFers, for that matter) are very good at sifting and sorting through plant biomass samples from the 102 experimental prairie plots at Tyson Research Center. Dr. Tiffany Knight and her prairie research team spent several days guiding SIFTers through plant identification as they processed all of the samples and got them ready for the drying oven.

The 2011 Prairie Team: (l tor) TERFer Alex Samuels, McKendree undergrad Lauren Eveland, Dr. Tiffany Knight, TERFer Brendan Hellebusch, McKendree undergrad Brandyn Snider, TERFer Taylor Rohan, TERFer Lena Bohman (not pictured McKendree undergrad Kelli Lewis)

SIFTers help with NutNet project at Tyson

Tyson Research Center participates in the Nutrient Network (NutNet), a global research cooperative to investigate alteration of global nutrient budgets and changes in the abundance and identify of consumers. The NutNet plots at Tyson are sampled in July and this year SIFTers helped identify and sort the plant samples.

SIFTers Adil Hassan (l) and Kelly Powderly (center) work with TERFer Alex Samuels (r) to sort plants into six categories.

Dr. Tiffany Knight (l) points out the differences in vegetation between the NutNet plots located in New Pond Field.

TERFers help maintain a research plot

While each TERFer is embedded on a particular research team at Tyson and spends the majority of her/his working hours with that team, there are often opportunities to help on other projects. Wash U grad student Kate Waselkov has enlisted the TERFers to help her with maintenance on her research plot at Tyson while she travels to her other research sites. She is investigating the effects of Amaranthus tuberculatus (water hemp) a weedy invasive, on Midwestern soybean fields.

Garima Thakkar (l) and Dan Peipert (r) check on individual water hemp plants that have been planted between the rows of soybeans.

Dan holds the fence open for Dee Luo. Shorter TERFers definitely have an advantage entering and leaving the plot!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Seed Collecting and Fish Survey

On July 13th and 14th two separate groups of SIFTers returned to SNR to take part in some seed collecting and a fish survey. Over two days of fishing at Wolf Run, a good mix of large mouth bass and sunfish (almost entirely bluegill) were captured. A total of about 50 fish were caught, identified, measured, and then released. To the best of my knowledge, everyone caught at least one fish. The next time you see Aileen, be sure to congratulate her on a 20.5" large mouth bass. She said it was the largest bass she's ever caught; however, no one was around to see her reel it in, so it's OK to question the validity of her story!

By most accounts, seed collecting was a hot job. It's hard work and there is no escaping the heat when you're outside in mid-July. The work centered around the wetlands, but some time was also spent near the new Glassberg Pavilions. Some of the time was also devoted to invasive plant removal. Both seed collecting and the removal of invasive plant species are key components in maintaining the grounds of SNR, so we truly appreciate the efforts of these SIFTers. Thanks for all your hard work!

A Summary of the June 2011 SIFT Sessions

Another June of SIFT sessions at SNR has come and gone. It was a great year, and now that it's mid-July, a summary of the sessions is probably a bit overdue. Like most previous years, this year's SIFT program was divided into three sessions, each lasting one week. Session one had 18 students, while sessions two and three both had 14 SIFTers, for a total of 46 participants.

For those who haven't experienced SIFT, a run-down of the week's activities follows. On day 1 the focus was getting SIFTers acquainted with each other, SNR staff, and the nature reserve in general. After a series of "getting to know you" activities and a talk about outdoor safety, the SIFTers learned a bit about navigating with a map, compass, and GPS unit. After lunch, the students were split into groups of 4-6 and asked to find their way from the Dana Brown Overnight Center to a point unknown to them (the Maritz Trail House). They were given a series of instructions to follow (i.e. take a compass bearing of 220 degrees and walk 60 paces) that required them to use the navigational skills and tools that they had just learned about. Fortunately, the lessons seemed to have sunk-in and no groups were lost for too long.

Day 2 focused on observation. After a brief lesson on field sketching, students then began an isopod inquiry. Each group was given a few isopods to observe. They were asked to note details about the isopods' physical characteristics and behaviors. Next, students generated a list of questions about isopods. The overall purpose of this lesson was to get SIFTers into an observational frame of mind and to get them thinking about how to turn observations into scientifically investigable questions. Day 2 also included a lesson on dichotomous keys. After a brief lesson on how to use and create these keys, the SIFTers were split into groups to create their own dichotomous key for a series of tree leaves. After lunch, the program switched gears and students were introduced to abiotic water testing. This was used to prepare students for day three.

The third day of each SIFT session was acquatics day. The morning was spent at Wolf Run Lake doing abiotic testing and a biotic sampling of the lake's macroinvertebrates. SNR staff facilitated the morning's activities, but the afternoon was essentially conducted by the SIFTers themselves. After lunch, the groups moved to Brush Creek where the SIFTers were on their own to decide how to conduct the same biotic and abiotic sampling that they had performed at Wolf Run. All three sessions of SIFTers handled this situation with ease. The highlight from this year's acquatics day occurred in session 2 when a good sized snapping turlte was found in Brush Creek! The last part of this day was spent indoors debriefing the day's activities. In small groups, the SIFTers worked to draw conclusions about the overall condition of Wolf Run and Brush Creek based on the data recorded through the course of the day.

The fourth day of SIFT centered on plant life in a variety of ecosystems. In small groups, the SIFTers conducted random sampling of the plants in a prairie, a glade, and a woodland. Again, there was a debriefing session where the SIFTers worked in 3 separate groups to assess the data from the ecosystem assigned to their group.

Day 4 also included an overnight stay. The most informative aspect of the overnight occurred when the SIFTers participated in short question/answer sessions with actual field scientists, researchers, and/or grauduate students (sometimes TERFers too). These sessions were a great opportunity for the SIFTers to ask questions and learn about college, potential careers, the joys of field biology, etc.

The final day of SIFT centered around ants, and was led by Dr. James Trager. SIFTers were given bags of bologna and pecan sandies (cookies) to use as ant bait. Pairs of SIFTers spread out around the overnight center, placed their bait, and then waited for the ants. As the ants arrived, students were asked to identify each new species (using an incredibly user-friendly key created by ant expert Dr. Trager). The students were also asked to observe the ants and their behaviors. One of the highlights from this year's ant baiting was when a couple of carpenter bees got too close to bologna that was covered in ants. Even though the bees weren't trying to take any of the bologna, the act of getting close to the ants' food source resulted in their being swarmed and killed by the much smaller ants. It was somewhat grisly to watch, but left this viewer with a much greater appreciation for the utter determination of some ants to defend important resources.

The final project undertaken by SIFTers could be seen as the culmination of the week's study. The students were split into 3 or 4 groups and asked to design a research project. Each design had to include a research question, a hypothesis, a list of the materials needed to conduct the project, the time-frame required to complete their research, and an overview of the method(s) that would be used to analyze the data. Upon completing their research design, each group presented their project to the rest of the group. Next, SNR staff and the other groups of SIFTers critiqued the project, with the goal of bringing the group to a better idea of what is realistically investigable and what a well-designed research project entails.

Overall, it was a great month with a great group of students. Sorry SIFTers if this entry is a bit dry. The goal was to inform other folks about SIFT. Upcoming blog entries will focus more on your experiences in the various projects.

Monday, July 11, 2011

July TERFers

(l to r) Zach, Dan, Milena, Dee, Alicia, Nina, Marie

There were 7 new TERFers (above) working at Tyson Research Center during July 2011.

Glade Team with Holly Bernardo and Steve Kroiss
Milena Kanak, homeschooled (TERF C3)

Forest Dynamics Plot with Dr. Jonathan Myers and Brett Decker
Marie Manzo, Metro HS (TERF C3)
Zach Rhodes, Francis Howell HS (TERF C3)
also continuing to work during July - Sarah Harrington, Metro HS (TERF C3)
and Aidan Kelly, Saint Louis University HS (TERF C3)

Fire Ecology Team with Dr. Rae Crandall
Dee Luo, Clayton HS (TERF C3)
Dan Peipert, Clayton HS (TERF C3)

Aquatics Team with Beth Biro, Lauren Woods, and Amber Burgett
Nina Fischer, John Burroughs HS (TERF C3)
Alicia McCabe, Incarnate Word Academy (TERF C3)
also continuing to work during July - Chloe Pinkner, Webster Groves HS (TERF C2)

Friday, July 8, 2011

June TERFers

(l to r) Brendan, Bryan, Aidan, Lena, Garima, Mary, and Sarah

There were 7 new TERFers (above) and 3 returning TERFers working at Tyson Research Center during June 2011, plus another returning TERFer working as support to the SIFT program training sessions over at Shaw Nature Reserve.

Prairie Team with Dr. Tiffany Knight
Taylor Rohan, Fort Zumwalt North HS (TERF C2)
Alex Samuels, Parkway South HS (TERF C2)
Lena Bohman, Thomas Jefferson School (TERF C3)
Brendan Hellebusch, Parkway North HS (TERF C3)

Glade Team with Holly Bernardo and Steve Kroiss
Mary Blair, Incarnate Word Academy (TERF C3)

Forest Dynamics Plot with Dr. Jonathan Myers and Brett Decker
Sarah Harrington, Metro HS (TERF C3)
Aidan Kelly, Saint Louis University HS (TERF C3)

Fire Ecology Team with Dr. Rae Crandall
Garima Thakkar, Parkway Central HS (TERF C3)
Bryan Rosinski, Eureka HS (TERF C3)

Aquatics Team with Beth Biro, Lauren Woods, and Amber Burgett
Chloe Pinkner, Webster Groves HS (TERF C2)

SIFT program with Lydia Toth
Tess Rogers, Maplewood-Richmond Heights HS (TERF C1)

TERF Winter Symposium

The winter symposium for TERF Cohort 2 was held on Saturday, January 22, 2011 in the Living Learning Center at Tyson Research Center. Family, friends, biology teachers, field mentors, former TERFers, and current SIFTers enjoyed poster and PowerPoint presentations on a variety of research projects.