Thursday, September 29, 2011

An Introduction to Aim-UP!

RCN-UBE: Advancing Integration of Museums into Undergraduate Programs (AIM-UP!)

AIM-UP! is a NSF sponsored Research Coordination Network in Undergraduate Biological Education that is exploring the tremendous potential of our vast natural history collections, associated databases, and data linkages to contribute to traditional classroom and laboratory teaching and non-traditional research experiences in biology. This network of museum scientists, collection specialists, undergraduate educators and artists intends to produce new ways of incorporating the extensive archives and cyberinfrastructure of natural history museums into undergraduate education under 5 primary themes: 1) Integrative Inventories: Exploring Complex Biotic Associations Across Space and Time, 2) Decoding Diversity: Making Sense of Geographic Variation, 3) Generating Genotypes: Evolutionary Dynamics of Genomes, 4) Fast Forward: Biotic Response to Climate Change, 5) Coevolving Communities: Pathogens, Hosts, and Emerging Diseases.

We anticipate developing additional subthemes through our meetings, on-line discussions and workshops at scientific meetings including an exploration of the use of natural history collections and associated databases to facilitate teaching in other subdisciplines in Biology (e.g., developmental biology, behavior, physiology, and cellular biology) and in other fields (e.g., geography). Already we developed a series of 2 day workshops and a cross-listed course with the Art and Ecology Program at the University of New Mexico. AIM-UP! will refine existing efforts and develop new integrated approaches to collections-based training in large-scale questions using the combined and broadly-based expertise of educators, curators, collection managers, database managers, and scientists whose teaching and investigations span across various disciplines and relate to topics covering a wide spectrum of time and space. We anticipate that, by integrating our expertise and experiences across university-based museums, we can greatly advance traditional and emerging fields that could use museum collections. Inclusion of participants from federal agencies, large free-standing museums, and leading educators from Latin America are ensuring wider dissemination of our educational products. Our plan is to 1) discuss and develop much needed teaching and analytic tools and methodologies for using museum specimens in training students in the emerging fields such as climate change, evolutionary genomics and molecular ecology, 2) develop instructional tools for museum databases (e.g., ARCTOS ) that will be freely available to both the public and to other teachers and scientists, 3) develop an integrated network of educators working on specimen-based questions on different taxa and disciplines, 4) include diverse collaborators, including minority and female scientists, federal agency biologists, academics, international participants, and museums with large public audiences, 5) train and mentor undergraduate students in museum-based field and laboratory research, and 6) outreach especially to underrepresented students with an emphasis on issues relevant to their communities (e.g., Native communities in New Mexico or bush Alaska).