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Faculty create innovative multidisciplinary capstone in School of Science

Jan 19, 2024

Faculty mentor on computer with students gathering around him reviewing what is on the computer screen Patrick Gentry, lecturer of biology in the IU School of Science at IUPUI and capstone faculty mentor, reviews notes with students in the capstone. Photo by Katie Dawson

A new multidisciplinary capstone is in full bloom at the IU School of Science at IUPUI thanks to the work of six faculty members. This new option nurtures collaboration between all science students, regardless of major, in an effort to tackle environmental issues, especially around Indianapolis.

A capstone is a required one-semester course for students to demonstrate and apply expertise in their field of study, often through internships, lab work or volunteering. The group — Patrick Gentry, Jim Marrs, Kathy Marrs and Forrest Brem of the Department of Biology; Gabriel Filippelli of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences; and Victoria Schmalhofer, assistant director of the Center for Earth and Environmental Science — saw an opportunity to offer something unique after gathering input from faculty and students alike.

A student and a faculty mentor work together to connect and earth auger to a drill. Forrest Brem, lecturer in the IU School of Science at IUPUI and capstone faculty mentor, works with a student to connect an earth auger to a drill. Photo by Katie Dawson

“For students interested in biomedical sciences, there’s plenty of options for them on campus,” Gentry said. “But for a degree program like environmental science, we have students who are more interested in the effects of climate change and biodiversity. So it came down to: How do we engage them in a way that they can have their needs or desires met and get them experience.”

Their solution was to create a collaborative experience to study the anthropogenic, or human-caused, effects on the environment. However, the impact of the capstone was designed to extend beyond just research. For example, students also work on projects with community partners, such as Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, as well as develop a professional e-portfolio for job opportunities after graduation.

Displaying the course’s versatility, students within the capstone are researching a variety of topics — such as lead and soil toxicity, and bird strikes on campus — and whether they have an environmental cause. Several students are taking samples from around Indianapolis, researching the environmental prevalence of antibiotic resistance and how it may affect the local community.

Students collected water samples around Indianapolis to determine their quality. Photo by Katie Dawson Students collected water samples around Indianapolis to determine their quality. Photo by Katie Dawson“It is impossible to separate the natural world from the impacts that human beings have on it,” Filippelli said. “By embracing multiple ways of knowing, including perspectives of students from different disciplines and backgrounds, we can gain a richer understanding of how to manage complex environments and make much more substantive contributions to improving communities.”

The capstone has garnered plenty of early interest, with a high demand of students wanting to participate. It has even earned financial support from the Institute of Engaged Learning, an on-campus institute that promotes and supports the equitable progression of undergraduates through various experiential learning opportunities. For its future, they envision opening the capstone to nonscience students who are interested in exploring environmental sciences and want to gain on-the-job experiences to complement their majors and careers paths.

“The idea is to expand it and get more people involved, but also have the students drive the questions and answers of their own research — having an option that’s not just benchwork and has a lot of getting out in the field,” Gentry said.

Author

School of Science

Devin Voss

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