Using a Summer REU to Help Develop the Next Generation of Mathematical Ecologists
Understanding the complexities of environmental issues requires individuals to bring together ideas and data from different disciplines, including ecology and mathematics. With funding from the national science foundation (NSF), scientists from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and the US geological survey held a research experience for undergraduates (REU) program in the summer of 2016. The goals of the program were to expose students to open problems in the area of mathematical ecology, motivate students to pursue STEM-related positions, and to prepare students for research within interdisciplinary, collaborative settings. Based on backgrounds and interests, eight students were selected to participate in one of two research projects: wind energy and wildlife conservation or the establishment and spread of waterfowl diseases. Each research program was overseen by a mathematician and a biologist. Regardless of the research focus, the program first began with formal lectures to provide students with foundational knowledge followed by student-driven research projects. Throughout this period, student teams worked in close association with their mentors to create, parameterize and evaluate ecological models to better understand their systems of interest. Students then disseminated their results at local, regional, and international meetings and through publications (one in press and one in progress). Direct and indirect measures of student development revealed that our REU program fostered a deep appreciation for and understanding of mathematical ecology. Finally, the program allowed students to gain experiences working with individuals with different backgrounds and perspectives. Taken together, this REU program allowed us to successfully excite, motivate and prepare students for future positions in the area of mathematical biology, and because of this it can be used as a model for interdisciplinary programs at other institutions.
KeywordsUndergraduate research Mathematical ecology Epidemiology Conservation biology
This research was supported by NSF-DMS Grant #1559663, “University of Wisconsin-La Crosse REU in Mathematical Ecology”. We would like to thank Richard Erickson of the USGS for co-mentoring one of the groups, co-authoring Haider et al. (2017), and helping write this manuscript. His contributions would warrant co-authorship, but his Branch Chief requested his removal from the manuscript (J. Meinertz, USGS Information Product Data System 087458). We would also like to thank the USGS Wind Energy Impacts Assessment program for funding Dr. Ericksons contribution to this project. We would also like to thank Richard Rebarber for serving as our external reviewer, and an overall mentor to the faculty mentors in the group. Finally, we would like to thank our students, Kelly Buch, Casey Carter, Annika Fredrickson, Humza Haider, Robert Hendrickson, Rosa Moreno, Sarah Oldfield, Tiffany Tu, for the hard work and constant inspiration they provided all summer. IRB Approval Number 5-6892.
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