Newswise — Sacramento State’s SIRIUS program received a $250,000 Keck Foundation grant Jan. 1 to expand its offering of research opportunities for undergraduates.

The Sustainable Interdisciplinary Research to Inspire Undergraduate Success program began at the University in 2015 with about $900,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the W.M. Keck Foundation to provide research projects on the American River for undergraduate students in the Department of Biological Sciences.

The new grant will cover equipment costs to bring that same opportunity to six new classes: General Chemistry, Inorganic Quantitative Analysis, Physical Geology, Hydrogeology, Environmental Toxicology, and a new Field Methods course.

“This coordinated curriculum allows for unprecedented faculty collaboration and increased opportunities for faculty and students to perform research, and present and publish their work,” says biology Professor Thomas Landerholm, director of SIRIUS.

The first SIRIUS project, initiated in 2015, studies the impact of human activities along the river on the many organisms that live there, including plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi. The Department of Biology is adopting these research activities in 12 of its existing laboratory courses.

The new course lines will include Hydrogeology, to introduce students to interactions between the river and groundwater, and trace contaminants through the river and campus aquifers; Environmental Toxicology, a study of the adverse effects of human exposure to toxic substances and application of health risk assessment; and a cross-listed Field Methods, taught collaboratively by a number of departments that teach students field data gathering, analysis, and presentation methods.

“Our major goal is to expand SIRIUS throughout the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) disciplines at Sacramento State, and create a model that other colleges and universities can adopt to study their local regions,” Landerholm says.

The group also is talking with representatives of community colleges in the region about creating similar experiences for students at those campuses.

The effort to expand SIRIUS began in collaborations with Biology Assistant Chair Kelly McDonald and faculty from the departments of Chemistry, Geology, and Environmental Studies. That was followed up with a campus visit by Keck representatives in 2016 when they met with University President Robert S. Nelsen, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics Dean Jill Trainer, department chairs and dozens of students.

For more information on SIRIUS and the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, visit or call (916) 278-4655. – Craig Koscho