CSUF News Service

Exploring STEM Research

Incoming Freshmen Learn About Grunions, Build Robots

Summer STEM student researching

Incoming freshman and biological science major Lauren Ganaben records data from her observations on a grunion experiment.

Inside a campus laboratory, incoming Cal State Fullerton freshman Stacy Flores stared into a microscope to take a closer look at a grunion embryo — and was amazed to see a tiny beating heart.

It was a view into the results of a research activity Flores and her peers conducted to determine the effects of different temperatures on embryo development.

"I have a passion for science," said Flores, a biological science major who wants to become a pharmacist. "This experience has made me look forward to working in a lab and prepared me on what to expect."

In a computer engineering lab, fellow freshman Carlos Vigil had a similar eye-opening experience — building and programming a robot to move back and forth.

"After experiencing this hands-on activity, I definitely want to stay in engineering. It's cool," said Vigil. "I'm just excited to start college here."

The lab experiences are part of the University's ASCEND STEM and BURST FORTH programs to get freshmen on track for science, technology, engineering and mathematics studies. The sessions were part of New Student Orientation, where faculty members, graduate students and upperclassmen taught and mentored select groups of incoming freshmen.

ASCEND STEM — Academic Success through Curriculum Enhancement and Nurturing to promote Degree completion in STEM — is a California State University STEM Collaboratives Project, designed to ensure that more college students, particularly those from historically underserved communities, graduate in STEM disciplines. It is made possible by a $4.6 million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, of which CSUF received $375,000.

"The purpose of the summer experience is to expose new students to research and engineering design projects as a way to get them to begin thinking about science and technology as inquiry- and creativity-oriented disciplines, and to build closer ties to their peers and with faculty," said Robert A. Koch, who is directing the campus effort.

"The activities are designed to stimulate creative and critical thinking, and demonstrate the fun and challenge of research and design projects."

BURST FORTH is a component of the Biology Undergraduate Research Scholars Training program, or BURST, funded by the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. It was piloted last summer as part of New Student Orientation and served as the model for ASCEND STEM. In a post-survey, BURST FORTH participants shared that they felt more confident about studying biology and less isolated than peers who did not take part, said William J. Hoese, professor of biological science.

"The BURST FORTH students also had a significantly higher interest in participating in undergraduate research with biology faculty," Hoese added.

ASCEND STEM summer activities include chemistry and biochemistry sessions Aug. 10-11.

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