A new grant from the Ohio State Energy Partners will open up a range of opportunities for Ohio State Lima students to develop strong research and laboratory skills that will easily transfer to future career and education paths. While building those skills, the students will be also be building the pool of knowledge around the effects of sustainable practices on an agricultural ecosystem.
Dr. Robin Bagley, assistant professor in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology, is the principal investigator for the $50,000 grant. She plans to integrate samples taken at the Lima farm and natural areas into biology and ecology classes on campus. Students will help with sample collection and do analyses and preparation of the samples as part of their classroom experiences.
Specific activities will change with the class area and level. For example, intro-level biology students could be extracting and sequencing DNA from insects collected by upper-level students doing field research. Ecology students may be sampling soil and water quality. The opportunities will give them real-world experience at all levels from first year to graduation.
“This grant allows us to push forward both the research initiatives in the biology department while chaining that to opportunities to bring real lab experiences into the classroom,” Bagley said. “It enriches and brings the classroom experience closer to what an actual scientist might do. If students get hired by a biotech company in the region, these are the things that they are going to be doing.”
In some ways, Lima’s size and low student-to-faculty ratio will let students help drive how their classroom experience progresses.
“We can let students collect their own specimens, collect their own soil samples, all that,” Bagley said. “This is really unique kind of opportunity we can give them because of our small class size.”
The sampling projects and analyses will be directly tied to the regenerative farming efforts and prairie development happening at various points on the Ohio State Lima campus. Long-term insect monitoring and environmental sampling at the farm fields, the prairie and natural areas will be one way to determine the effects of regenerative farming and conservation practices on the biodiversity and health of the area.
“We’re at a really early stage of learning what happens when you maintain lands using these regenerative practices. That's a well-established field for what we predict is going to happen to the soil and the water,” Bagley said. “Less is known about what is happening to your larger environment around it and our insects are a good proxy for understanding that.”
While having more students working on the various projects on campus will give a huge push to the knowledge generation, Bagley is most excited about how the research will be put to use as a teaching tool in the classroom for students who can’t commit to a complete, independent undergraduate research project.
“We have so many students who would really like to have the full, joining-a-lab experience, but they have so many demands on their time with working, being a full time student which is a full-time job, that they just have to give somewhere,” she said. “This is a really great way to give that same research lab experience in a condensed form and let them learn more about it and decide if in their senior year they want to invest in something like that more. Even if they can't, they still have that same core experience.”
The OSEP grant is a for one year, but its impact will be felt for years to come. Bagley anticipates that as the plan is fully implemented, every biology student who comes to Ohio State Lima will benefit.
“What we do will be sustainable. This amount of money to us can be completely transformative to what we can do in the classroom,” Bagley said. “It's an investment in our students, into our classrooms in a way that will permanently improve them.”
The Ohio State Energy Partners Awards provides grants for proposals from Ohio State faculty, staff and students that advance important university priorities and promote interdiscipinary and community collaboration.