East Georgia State College students perform undergraduate research as part of USG STEM IV Initiative Grant
East Georgia State College received a grant from the University System of Georgia that focuses on undergraduate research and mindset. The STEM IV Initiative Grant was for $50,000 annually for three years. Currently, EGSC is in the second year of the grant and three EGSC students are performing undergraduate research as part of the grant.
The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia has supported the USG STEM Initiative since 2007 as a method to increase the quality and number of graduates from the State of Georgia’s colleges and universities in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.
To apply for the grant, EGSC had to complete a detailed application. In the application a campus team lead, Dr. David Chevalier, and a development team was created. The group then formed a statement of institutional focus and student needs and formed a topic area as the main focus for their STEM IV Initiative Program. After selecting the program, the members proposed activities and a timeline as well as a plan for how they plan to collect data for evaluation. The campus team also created a sustainability plan and budget for the grant.
Since its launch, the STEM Initiative has had three key objectives. Those objectives are readiness, STEM success, and STEM educator preparation. Readiness is included in an effort to increase the number of K-12 students prepared for and interested in STEM majors in college. The second objective, STEM success, hopes toincrease the success rates and number of students in college who pursue the STEM disciplines. Educator Preparation, the third objective, is the effort to increase the number of teachers who are prepared in science and mathematics.
The EGSC STEM IV grant focuses on undergraduate research and growth mindset. This research leads to the broadening and deepening of classroom learning and the development of problem solving and critical skills.
“The STEM IV grant is providing new opportunities to the EGSC students to perform research. Research allows students to improve their critical thinking skills, apply their knowledge to solve a scientific question, and ultimately be more competitive in their future career,” said Dr. Chevalier, the Interim Dean of the School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences.
This semester at EGSC, three students are performing a research project as part of the STEM IV grant.
Shanice McGuire’s research focuses on foodborne diseases. The CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from foodborne diseases. This can result in up to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths annually. Three of the top five pathogens contributing to domestic foodborne illness are Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Staphylococcus species. Of these pathogens, Salmonella bacteria cause the most hospitalizations and deaths in the US each year. Additionally, pathogenic bacteria can acquire resistance to common antibiotics, making it more difficult and expensive to treat infections. Shanice McGuire is studying the prevalence of antibiotic resistance in bacteria from domestic chickens by isolating bacteria from manure samples and exposing these bacteria to multiple types of antibiotics. The presence of antibiotic resistant bacteria in chicken manure would indicate a high risk of transfer to humans through contact with live chickens or consumption of undercooked or improperly handled eggs and meat.
“This project was entirely student driven. Shanice came to me with an idea and I let her run with it,” said Dr. Breana Simmons. “She researched the methodology, designed the experiments, and wrote a project proposal. She carries out the lab work independently and will hopefully be able to publish the results. I am incredibly proud of her.”
Carley Stapleton and Monique Johnson are both working on different aspects of a project to develop a monitoring system for detecting cyanobacteria in water. Cyanobacteria can produce toxins and can accumulate in farm ponds and lakes and other environmental water bodies and are considered an increasingly serious threat to environmental health.
Monitoring for cyanobacteria involves measuring both the chlorophyll and phycocyanin – both contained in cyanobacteria – content of the water. These two pigments are currently measured by two separate and different methodologies, which is expensive. Their project involves developing a method that uses octanol and water to extract the two pigments simultaneously in one operation. Chlorophyll and phycocyanin are released from the bacteria by mixing them with the octanol-water, and they also separate from each other, as chlorophyll (a green color) accumulates in the upper octanol phase of the biphasic system, while the blue phycocyanin pigment accumulates in the lower aqueous phase, all in the same small vial. Upon separation of the phases, each phase can be measured for the intensity of the green or blue color by a spectrophotometer or a plate reader. The use of a plate reader, an instrument that measures color intensity in many small wells simultaneously, is another aspect of the project that miniaturizes the procedure, thus making it amenable to an automated approach.
Stapleton, Johnson, and EGSC hope to use this new methodology in the near future to monitor water bodies for cyanobacteria in the Swainsboro area. If all goes well, they expect to publish their results and will propose this methodology as a better way to monitor water bodies for cyanobacterial contamination.
Faculty and students Involved In undergraduate research are very grateful for the support of the support of the STEM IV grant.