This past year, UNCG was chosen as one of only a dozen universities nationwide in a four-year program aimed at bringing hands-on experience to classrooms and lectures. The Wetlands project rose out of collaboration with the National Science Foundation, a government organization started in 1950 to promote the advancement of the sciences and technology, is known as the Council of Undergraduate Research (CUR) Transformation.
This past March, UNCG used the funding to create the UNCG Wetlands: two artificial environments here on campus that seek to revert the areas on campus to a more “natural” state. Jointly funded by the Duke Energy Water Resources Fund, The UNCG Green Fund and Provost Office, these wetlands are expected to increase in value as time progresses and more species of plants and animals come to call them home. The wetlands are a hub of biodiversity and a realistic representation of the habitat that they seek to replicate.
The wetlands will also serve as a sort of natural laboratory, allowing students taking biology, chemistry and biochemistry classes to have hands-on experiences. Classes ranging in levels from introductory to advanced will be able to use them, and for the more advanced classes, there will be places where research can be conducted. Medicinal fungi that grows in the wetlands will be used as samples for experiments on the fungi’s effects and actions.
Professor and Associate Department Head of Chemistry and Biochemistry Dr. Jerry Walsh said in a release put out by UNCG that, “In the department’s chemical research, harvesting materials is common, but a research experiment in a living system is unique. Undergraduate research is something that’s very important for both of our departments. This project will open up the research experience to a wider range of students.”
Lead investigator for the project, Dr. Iglika Pavlova, said in the same press release that “Ultimately, we’re using the strength of our research faculty. At UNCG we have highly successful researchers who are heavily involved in undergraduate education and research and our graduates will represent the scientifically educated population of the future. With authentic scientific experiences, we’re exposing them to the kind of challenge and process it takes to do science and discover how our world works.”
The opportunity to do hands-on scientific research isn’t the only benefit brought about by the wetlands here at UNCG. Several classes have been created by the addition of the wetlands, including a course on ecotoxicology led by Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Martin Tsz-Ki Tsui and Dr. Zhenquan Jia. Ecotoxicology is the study of the effects of toxic chemicals on biological organisms and is a mix of biology, chemistry and biochemistry. It is a great example of the partnership brought about by the creation of the wetlands.
According to Dr. Iglika Pavlova, “It’s not just about creating a course, but the way we see the curriculum.”
This focus on hands-on experience in a natural setting, and the research and discoveries that it entails, makes the UNCG Wetlands a unique opportunity for advancements in multiple fields and one that will hopefully cement UNCG as a hub of scientific research and discovery.