Colby's robust program in the sciences got another
adrenaline injection recently when the National Science Foundation granted half
a million dollars to the College for the continued expansion of student
The NSF's Award for the Integration of Research in Education (AIRE) provides
funding over a three-year period to make curricular enhancements and to build
research components into upper-level science and math courses as well as
courses that fulfill distribution requirements for all Colby students. Teaching
fellows will be hired in biology, physics, chemistry and environmental science
to provide mentoring for students in research situations and to free existing
faculty to develop new courses with enriched research opportunities. "We are
excited about this NSF award and the possibilities it provides for our
undergraduates," said F. Russell Cole, Oak Professor of Biological Sciences and
project co-director (with Dean of the Faculty Edward Yeterian) for Colby's AIRE
grant. Cole said the grant recognizes Colby's many accomplishments in the
sciences during the last decade as well as plans for future innovation.
According to Cole, Colby's AIRE proposal was a natural extension of the
College's 1991 "Plan for the Sciences," whose theme was "education through
research." That plan focused more attention on interdisciplinary learning and
emphasized research in regular classroom work. Since adoption of the new
curriculum the number of students majoring in the sciences has doubled, and
since 1993 more than 600 students have conducted research alongside Colby
faculty. Research is an intrinsic part of science study in a liberal arts
setting because it "promotes hands-on and collaborative learning and fosters
analytical and critical thinking skills," said Cole.
One of the keys to the success of Colby's AIRE proposal, according to NSF
officials, was its plan to foster cross-disciplinary study of the sciences and
to bring research opportunities to courses for non-science majors. All Colby
students must take at
least two science courses, including one with a
component. In so-called "distributional" courses,
interdepartmental linkages and smaller student-to-teacher ratios will allow for
further integration of research. With the support of the AIRE grant, courses
like The Physics of Everything, which deals with modern technology, and The
Elements, a course on atomic physics, can be redesigned to add laboratory
components. With the help of the NSF funds, hands-on research--building a robot
in the Robotics course, for example--will become the norm in courses throughout
the science division.
The AIRE money also will allow "new, cutting-edge experiments" that deepen
research projects for upper-level science students like Catherine Garland '99.
She has worked with Physics Professor Murray Campbell to analyze the
composition of stellar dust--analysis that can determine the origin of stars.
Garland already is doing work typically reserved for graduate-level study and
has twice presented her findings at the national American Astronomical Society.
She is gaining valuable experience in both the techniques and tenacity
necessary to succeed as a research scientist. "I've learned that I love
research; I know now that that's what I want to do for a career. And it also
has taught me the importance of organization and self-motivation; a project
like this takes years to complete," she said.
The application of the NSF funds, on top of an already thriving program,
creates synergy by enhancing the teaching of science for all students while
also strengthening departmental offerings for majors, Cole says. NSF Acting
Deputy Director Joe Bordogna agreed, saying that the AIRE grants "help create a
discovery-rich environment where institutions and their students can benefit
from making research an essential component of the school curriculum."
Other possible uses of the grant money include stipends for faculty from all
divisions to develop interdisciplinary courses that include both scientific and
research components; a cross-campus seminar on issues in the sciences; an
expansion of Colby's Partnership for Science Education program with local
schools; workshops for faculty; a Web site devoted to research; and an annual
poster session during which students from all disciplines can present research
Competition for the grant was keen; more than 140 colleges applied and just 10