The Teaching Award for Excellence in Inquiry-Based Learning was awarded to Dr. Beth Beason-Abmayr in April 2019. This award brings attention to the efforts across campus to scaffold inquiry and research into the curriculum, such as Beth’s efforts to give students increasingly independent opportunities to develop skills in framing research questions and in research methodology. Beth has partnered with faculty to incorporate research challenges into introductory and advanced courses that employ the course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE) model.
Her synthetic biology laboratory course, BIOC 313, exposes students to molecular biological procedures and techniques that are used in building and characterizing synthetic genetic circuits. “Teams of students will choose, design, and test projects using synthetic biology to address a real-world problem,” says Beason-Abmayr. Going beyond existing research, students in the class frame their own question. Sooyun Yoon, a student in the class, said “ .. we got to design our own project so really the field was open to anything we could think of. We each got to go through the entire design process, do our background research, and learn every step along the way.” Each team described a potential project to the class, and the class voted to select one project for which they pool their research efforts. Teams are then assigned pieces of the selected project that contribute to a shared overall goal. “The interesting part about this project is that you start like super broad and then you narrow it down. The narrowing down is both a combination of learning about synthetic biology and learning what is possible,” said student Arya Shetty. Dr. Beason-Abmayr sees this process as an important part of the course, “Giving students the opportunity to design and choose their project is immensely empowering. They are inspired to think creatively about biological solutions to real-world problems that matter to them and recognize that they can play an active role in achieving the solution.”