UBM-Institutional: Integrated Undergraduate Research Experiences in Biological and Mathematical Sciences
The Integrated Undergraduate Research Experience at the Interface of Biology and Mathematics program aims to promote broader access to cross-disciplinary education in biology and mathematics with an emphasis on undergraduate research, and to strengthen the culture and academic foundation of interdisciplinary biology-mathematics education. To meet these goals it is 1) supporting four cohorts of eight undergraduate students through a two-year research immersion program involving active mentoring and collaborative learning on original research projects in the key biology-mathematics research areas of quantitative ecology, environmental health and freshwater biogeochemistry; and 2) developing new curricular components to facilitate flexible undergraduate biology-mathematics training, including both an interdisciplinary Certificate Program in Quantitative Biology, and a research-oriented biomathematics specialization within the Mathematics major. The selected research themes, which emphasize aquatic ecology, are dynamic and of topical interest, and closely match the core interests and expertise of participating faculty within the College of Letters and Science and the newly established School of Freshwater Sciences. Students begin their research immersion with a mathematical modeling course sequence, and a parallel research seminar in which they study increasingly open-ended biological research questions, and learn relevant laboratory techniques. In their second year, cohorts investigate research questions within the key research themes, under the joint mentoring of mathematics and biology faculty. The curricular program is strongly connected to the research immersion, in order to motivate student participation in interdisciplinary learning opportunities both inside and outside of the typical classroom. Further, it is providing participating students with appropriate qualifications that reflect these interdisciplinary skills, and which will be recognized in the context of emerging biomathematics programs. The curricular program also is serving to identify, motivate and train future professionals with a skill set that is highly relevant to national interests in restoring and maintaining the health of the Great Lakes region. The UBM research program is building on a pilot biology-mathematics undergraduate research program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), and serving as a model to extend and encourage undergraduate research within interdisciplinary education at UWM. The program is also strengthening teaching and research collaborations among the Departments of Biological Sciences, Mathematical Sciences and the School of Freshwater Sciences, as well as supporting the long term plans of the institution as a whole. Research outcomes are being published in formats accessible by the scientific community as well as by non-scientists and public-policy decision makers.