It’s day 212 of Day1, the program that gives first-year students hands-on, authentic research opportunities at the very start of their Hope College education, and freshmen Ben Turner and Karey Frink are feeling as comfortable in a Schaap Center laboratory as they do in their cozy Lichty Hall dorm rooms.
After almost a year, the two frosh have streaked a plethora of plates to isolate E. coli cultures, used a DNA sequencer to identify those E. coli strains and other bacterial populations, and analyzed the data with Hope’s supercomputer, Curie. They’ve paddled up and downstream in the Macatawa Watershed to gather water samples, in agricultural areas and residential ones throughout the Holland area. They’ve worked side-by-side with Dr. Aaron Best and Dr. Graham Peaslee, and the students worked on their own, too. In Lichty Hall, where all 13 Day1:Watershed students are housed, they’ve become part of a close-knit, residential learning community that is supportive and collaborative in their similar academic pursuits and challenges.
And through it all, Turner and Frink have experienced and developed what Hope science educators hoped the Day1 program would achieve – an early and deep-seated love and appreciation for cutting-edge research that has real-world relevance, all the while thriving in community.
“Day1 has helped me ask, ‘Do I want to do this kind of science for the rest of my life, or do I want to do something else?'” says Frink who is from Birmingham, Michigan, and plans to be a biology major and environmental science minor. “And the answer is: I love it. I love learning about this science. I’m not sure I want to continue researching forever, but I love that I’ve had this opportunity. It’s been very exciting really.”
“It’s a cool overall community,” Turner says, a native of Albion, Michigan, and also a biology major. “Living together in Lichty has been great because we are all taking the same (science) classes. So if I need help with my homework, I just go to the study lounge and there’s at least six really smart people who are willing to help. I’ve made a lot of good friends fast due to Day1.”
Day1: Watershed is funded by a major grant, received in 2014 and worth $3 million, from The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation of Midland, Michigan ($1.75 million goes toward the first three years of equipment and operational expenses and the rest, $1.25 million, will be endowed to fund the future of Day1.) The program seeks to study the water quality of Lake Macatawa and its watershed in partnership with Project Clarity, a broad-based community initiative established in November 2012 to remediate some of lake’s physical and bacterial issues.
“Participation in Day1 is not making students take extra time to complete their degrees. These are experiences integrated into required courses, and, in fact, because of the support structure, Day1 helps students graduate on time.”
Dr. Catherine Mader, Day1 grant author and program director, notes that the grant from Dow primarily supports the watershed program, but five other programs – Day1: Phage, Day1: Great Lakes, Day1: Michigan Rocks, and Day1: EDGE as well as a new science peer partnership learning program in Hope’s Academic Success Center (ASC) – have been impacted by its funding, too. More than 200 Hope STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students have received help with, exposure to, and academic credit for research in their preferred fields of study.
“This is not an extracurricular program and these are not extra courses on top of their potential major requirements,” says Mader, professor of physics. “Participation in Day1 is not making students take extra time to complete their degrees. These are experiences integrated into required courses, and in fact, because of the support structure, Day1 helps students graduate on time because they are in these solid learning communities supporting each other.”
Along with Mader and her guidance of this program, a good deal of support comes from dedicated science faculty, such as Best and Peaslee, who not only instruct their watershed students in the ways of becoming quality researchers but also in the ways of becoming quality college students. Watershed students also take their first-year seminar (FYS) with these two profs, participating in a bridge experience as they arrive on campus a week before the start of the official academic year to begin their intensive research and FYS experience before most other freshmen arrive.
“Day1 gives you such great community while doing some not-necessarily-easy work,” says Frink. “But that work is fun because of the people who do it with me.”
Once school starts though, Day1:Watershed-ers meet twice a week for seven hours total lab time in the first semester and three hours of lab time in the second. In the context of this required class and lab taken by choice, Best and Peaslee engendered science enthusiasm by creating an environment of serious research fun. Even though the research skills and subject are advanced and the professors’ standards high, the students appreciate the culture as much as the content.
Well, actually, maybe they appreciate the culture the most.
“Day1 gives you such great community while doing some not-necessarily-easy work,” says Frink. “But that work is fun because of the people who do it with me.” “And Dr. Best and Dr. Peaslee are awesome and hilarious,” adds Turner. “Sure, they know their stuff but they are fun to be around, too.”
Best’s positive feelings about working with Day1 Watershed students are reciprocated. He appreciates their eagerness and energy and how he gets to interact with them in several different contexts – as FYS instructor, advisor, watershed explorer, researcher – all markers of the unique cross-experiential features of the program.
“We do authentic research with necessary local application,” says Best, the Harrison C. and Mary L. Visscher Associate Professor of Genetics and Associate Professor of Biology. “I wouldn’t do this research just to do it. I don’t want my students doing research just to do it. There are too many resources involved – time and money and relationships – to do that, right? So, it’s not just enough to learn. We’re doing this to learn with purpose.”
“Without Day1, I definitely would not have this opportunity,” says Turner. “I’m probably about a year ahead in research knowledge than I should be if I hadn’t been involved in Day1.”
Understanding links between the bacterial populations and the physical changes in the Lake Mac watershed is that purpose. Best will continue on with long-term monitoring of the watershed during summer research, in which Turner will continue to be involved. “Without Day1, I definitely would not have this opportunity,” says Turner. “I’m probably about a year ahead in research knowledge than I should be if I hadn’t been involved in Day1.”
Frink will go her separate way by taking an experiential learning trip this summer to the Bahamas with Dr. Brian Bodenbender, professor of geological and environmental sciences, to study geology, biology, and sustainability. Each student’s summer opportunity is funded by Day1.
When they return in the fall, both Turner and Frink will be back together again in Day1, but this time, each will serve as teaching assistants (TAs) in the watershed program. They’ll give back to the program that allowed them to get their proverbial “feet wet” in college-level research, continuing to step into educational and watery currents that have taught and bonded them in a science career at Hope, from day one.