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Freshman Students Explore through Summer Research

Freshman Students Explore through Summer Research
Sophmore Sahran Hashim working with Professor Susan Cameron Devitt at the no mow research site along Lady Bird Lake, west of Lamar Blvd. Photo credit: Marsha Miller.

From combatting an invasive species to tracking pollinators' patterns, undergraduate students get a taste of what real research is like over the summer when they team up with faculty members and graduate students on projects with the award-winning Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) program at UT Austin. UT News featured three different summer projects in their coverage, including the study of insects, zebra mussels and water sampling, and experts at other universities are abuzz about how this program and others like it are allowing "students to delve deeply into real problems."

Among the FRI participants and educators in the news were sophomore Sahran Hashim and research educator Susan Cameron. This summer they traversed grassy areas near Lamar Boulevard and Lady Bird Lake to find which bugs are visiting which flowers throughout the year. This research serves to enhance knowledge of biodiversity, as well as inform future caretakers of the area on seasonal seeding processes to increase pollination.

The UT News team spoke to more FRI participants about a project focused on the ecological impact of zebra mussels, a seemingly unstoppable invasive species affecting bodies of water throughout Texas. Sophomore Morgan Klein led a team of FRI students in sampling water from local marinas to determine the growth rate of mussels, and found roughly 1,240 zebra mussels colonized one 10-by-10 inch plate in the span of one month. This research aims to create a baseline data set researchers can use to develop predictive models and prevent future zebra mussel problems.

High school students across Austin also teamed up with FRI leaders to work on a project aimed at understanding resiliency and sustainability in Waller Creek and other waterways. Teams took various samples from the creek bed to answer research questions with the Urban Ecosystems stream

The benefits of FRI, and other first-year research experiences inspired by FRI, were also outlined in a piece written for The Conversation by SUNY Binghamton University Professor Nancy Stamp. She wrote about one example from dozens of Freshman Research Initiative courses offered at UT Austin and about what the impact of the program has proven to be:

Just what do these undergraduate research experiences look like? 

At the University of Texas, it involved having students identify a new way to
manage and repair DNA, the stuff that makes up our genes. This in turn provides insights into preventing genetic disorders. ...

[With about 1,000 participants throughout Natural Sciences at UT Austin], educators found that program participants showed a 23% higher graduation rate than similar students who were not in the program. And this outcome took place irrespective of students' gender, race or ethnicity, or whether they were the first in their family to attend college.

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Monday, 27 March 2023

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