California State University, Fullerton

News Categories

CSUF News Service

BURST: Inspiring Future Biologists

Building a Sense of Community to Improve Retention, Graduation Rates

July 28, 2014

As a BURST scholar, biological science student Thomas Parker conducted research with faculty mentor Danielle C. Zacherl, associate professor of biological science, to restore native Olympia oyster beds in San Diego Bay.

Download Photo

Peering into a microscope and seeing California grunion embryos, incoming freshman and aspiring veterinarian Tanya Young excitedly remarked: "I see the heart beating — that is so cool!"

Young and other new biological science majors, who begin classes this fall, had a chance over the summer during new student orientation to conduct a research experiment with California grunion, a small fish that comes out of the ocean to spawn on sandy beaches.

The Biology Undergraduate Research Scholars Training (BURST) Program presented the "Freshman Orientation Research Training Hour," attended by 80 soon-to-be freshmen. Faculty members, graduate students and undergraduates led three sessions to foster interest in biology and establish links to the department.

In the lab, students investigated the role of temperature on grunion hatching success and collected data to compare characteristics of grunion incubated at two different temperatures, explained William J. Hoese, professor of biological science.

"Through this event, we introduced new students to inquiry-based learning, research in biology, other students in the department and the major in general," Hoese said.

Enhancing Student Success

The freshman research experience is part of BURST's three-tiered effort to "expose, engage and immerse" students in biology research. Launched in 2013-14, the program is funded by the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

The program's goals are to increase the number of students involved in the high-impact practice of faculty-mentored research, improve student understanding of the nature of science, and build a community of student researchers — with the overarching goal of improving retention and graduation rates for biological science majors, said Jennifer L. Burnaford, program coordinator and assistant professor of biological science.

In addition to Burnaford and Hoese, Merri Lynn Casem, professor of biological science; Kathryn Dickson, chair and professor of biological science; and Kristy Forsgren, assistant professor of biological science, also help lead the program.

To support advanced students conducting faculty-mentored research, BURST provided stipends for five scholars engaged in year-round projects. For example, Thomas Parker was able to conduct research with faculty mentor Danielle C. Zacherl, associate professor of biological science, to restore native Olympia oyster beds in San Diego Bay. The program also funded his travel expenses to present his research at a national conference in Florida.

"Without the BURST support, I wouldn't have had these undergraduate research experiences," said Parker, who is spending the rest of the summer taking a course at the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Laboratories. He plans to graduate in January and then pursue an advanced degree.

During the academic year, BURST sponsors activities designed to reach undergraduates of all class levels. Such activities have included a "Meet and Greet," a partnership with the student-run SUCCESS group, where undergrads received advice on how to identify faculty mentors to work with on biology, chemistry and biochemistry research.

In addition, a "Careers in Biology" workshop was held with alumni who discussed their career pathways and offered advice. As the result of a new connection from the workshop, May biological science grad Mauricio Gomez landed a job at an environmental consulting company, Burnaford noted.

During 2013-14, BURST supported attendance at national and local scientific conferences for 17 undergraduates, which gave students the opportunity to meet and interact with other research scholars and network with potential graduate mentors. To highlight activities of the undergraduate researchers and for information on seminars, internships and career opportunities, BURST also maintains a Facebook page.

For more photos from the Freshman Orientation Research Training Hour, visit online.

Tags:  Academics & Research