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.

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.