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AWRI researcher gets major grant to teach research science

Posted on May 05, 2015

James McNair, a researcher and associate professor at Grand Valley’s Annis Water Resources Institute in Muskegon, has earned a major grant from the National Science Foundation that will fund a program that teaches students quantitative science and research skills. 

Called REU QUEST (Research Experience for Undergraduates in Quantitative Environmental Science and Technology), the program takes 10 non-Grand Valley students each summer from universities that don’t offer research opportunities and gives them 10 weeks of intensive research experience in ecology, evolutionary biology and environmental science. The program also works to teach students quantitative skills that McNair said are essential to students who want to work in these fields. 

The nearly $265,000 grant will fund the program for three years. 

“Throughout the summer we will teach research skills, statistical methods and GIS techniques and give the students the tools they need to develop and complete a successful research project,” McNair said. “This program also provides them with professional development and training, and helps them learn more about how to function in a research environment.”

The program will also teach students about ethics in science, and provide a foundation that could help them pursue graduate degrees in science fields. 

The program targets students who are traditionally underrepresented in the biological sciences.

“REU QUEST helps students get experience, get interested in research, and begin to think seriously about applying to graduate school in the biological sciences,” McNair said.

Students are recruited to the program from around the country. McNair hopes to have some of the student research projects published in peer-reviewed science journals. Faculty members from several departments, including AWRI, biology, biomedical science, and geography and planning are expected to participate.

“There are various components to the project and things we’re trying to achieve, but the main thing is individual student-oriented research projects with a lot of one-on-one faculty mentoring. We also want to foster peer-to-peer interactions,” McNair said.