Newswise — Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H., is launching a new initiative to leverage its scenic 1200-acre campus for undergraduate environmental research, while helping financially needy students pursue majors and careers in the sciences. 

The program is made possible by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant totaling nearly $650,000 to promote increased academic success and job/graduate school placement among academically talented low-income students pursuing baccalaureate degrees in biology and environmental science over the next five years. "It will provide $424,000 in scholarships to academically qualified students in our newly created, Biology and Environmental Science Training (BEST) Program," said Provost James DuMond. 

The BEST program will tap more than 1,000 acres of undeveloped land on the university’s 1,200-acre campus located at the base of New Hampshire's Mt. Monadnock as a living laboratory. Additional resources from the grant will help the private university use research data in new ways to measure and increase the effectiveness of STEM education programs on the undergraduate level. 

"The grant also includes funding for enrichment for our students through field trips and job-shadowing opportunities and attendance at professional conferences,” said Rhine Singleton, professor of biology and environmental science at Franklin Pierce and the principal investigator on the university's NSF grant application. “And the faculty here will be mentoring students to achieve those goals and also mentoring them with their careers.” 

"This award is an important milestone for the University, which has received NSF funding in the past, but not of this type or scope," noted Dr. Kim Mooney, President of Franklin Pierce University. "The grant reflects an endorsement of the hard work and successes of our science faculty and the potential of our very talented students," added President Mooney. "It will help us in our ongoing efforts to better integrate educational experiences in the classroom, in the lab, and in the field." 

According to Professor Singleton, the research results will be used to inform Franklin Pierce's curricular goals in biology and environmental science programs. "Through publications, conference presentations, and dedicated websites and social media accounts, Franklin Pierce will disseminate program materials, resources, and research,” he said. “These will inform the larger academic community on what works in enhancing curricular and co-curricular offerings for academically talented, financially needy students in biology and environmental science disciplines.” 

Franklin Pierce University's 1,200-acre campus already provides faculty and students with hands-on undergraduate research opportunities that are unavailable at most colleges and universities. The BEST program will enable the university and its students to expand on their use of the nearby outdoors for new exploration of biology and environmental-sciences research in the field. 

"We have the luxury of being able to study a half-dozen kinds of ecosystems in just a short walk from our science building,” said Professor Singleton. “So instead of taking time to drive to a field site during a lab, we can use that time to deliver content and do in-depth research. It makes it super easy for students to get hands-on experience doing fieldwork--and it has allowed us to set up research plots in the natural environment of campus that our students have access to, just by walking to them."