TWIN FALLS — As a young science student, Reagan Haney trapped sugar beet root maggots before they were able to lay eggs on farmers’ crops.
Since her internship, the 22-year-old College of Southern Idaho student has continued doing scientific research. In addition to her classes at the University of Idaho, Haney has been a research assistant at the university since fall 2017, focusing on the topic of malaria.
Haney is among dozens of students at CSI over about 15 years who’ve conducted scientific research and completed internships. Now, it’s the last year of Idaho’s current five-year grant from IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence, but officials hope to receive renewed funding.
CSI biology professor Amy Rice Doetsch, who is also the college’s program manager for INBRE, and associate professor of chemistry Megan Jacobson presented to the CSI board of trustees Monday about INBRE. It was an information item, so trustees didn’t take action.
So far this year, the college has had six scholars complete intensive lab projects, four industry interns and one fellow who conducted research at a university.
Offering scientific research opportunities for students was an interesting transition on campus, Rice Doetsch told the Times-News on Friday.
“It was a culture shift here at CSI,” she said. “It aligns really nicely with a lot of pedagogical research showing that students having what are called ‘authentic research experiences’ helps with retention in STEM fields.”
Here in Idaho, there’s a shortage of workers who can fill highly specialized jobs in science, technology, engineering and math.
INBRE is funded by the National Institutes of Health in four or five-year grant cycles. Idaho is on its third INBRE grant. It’s officially awarded to the University of Idaho, which subcontracts awards to other colleges and universities — such as CSI — across the state.
The current grant comes to an end April 30. “Our hope, our plan is to get renewed for another five-year cycle,” Rice Doetsch said.
A grant application was submitted in March. The last Rice Doetsch heard, a decision will be made around January 2019.
She has seen the impact of INBRE on her students. Participants have higher graduation and transfer rates to four-year universities than average, Rice Doetsch said, and numerous past participants have gone on to Ph.D. programs and medical school.
“It’s made a huge impact on the students who have been able to participate,” she said. And for faculty members, they’ve been able to “facilitate those experiences for students beyond the classroom. It enriches what we’re doing at CSI.”
CSI received its first INBRE grant funding in 2004. At the time, students who participated did an intensive research experience for about two weeks at laboratories at Boise State University.
Starting with the second grant in 2009, the research experience morphed away from being solely at BSU. Students had the option of applying to participate at other Idaho universities, too.
For the last nine years, CSI has offered its own research opportunity — focusing mostly on sustainability issues and their connection to human health and wellbeing — under the direction of two CSI professors. It’s geared mostly toward freshmen, but some sophomores also participate.
Research happens over the course of the spring semester. “It’s a longer period of time for students to design their own projects and carry out experiments,” Rice Doetsch said. “It’s a less stressful experience for everybody.”
With the third grant cycle starting in 2014, CSI’s internship options became fully up and running. Since then, students have completed internships at places such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research laboratory in Kimberly, Twin Falls County Pest Abatement District and at an aquaculture research facility in Hagerman.
“We’ve got lots of community partners, which has been wonderful,” she said.
Plus, for CSI students who are industry interns, “labs have been great about employing students after they’re done with their internship,” Jacobson told the CSI board Monday.
When she was a student at CSI, Haney did an INBRE internship in summer 2016 at UI’s Kimberly Research and Extension Center.
She worked on a project involving synthetic pheromones, as well as trapping sugar beet root maggots. Maggots eat the roots of sugar beets, reducing crop yield.
“I really feel like INBRE gave me a gateway as to ‘Hey, here’s what research would look like,’” she said. “I feel like INBRE essentially opened doors for me.”
Haney graduated from CSI in 2017 with an associate’s degree in biology. Now, she’s studying animal science at UI and is on track to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in May.
Haney has also participated in the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, offered by UI through a U.S. Department of Education grant. The program, she said, encourages students to further their education by pursuing a Ph.D.
Originally, Haney’s plan was to go to veterinary school. Now, she’s considering going to graduate school instead and is narrowing down options for a field of study, such as microbiology or molecular biology.
CSI student Christina Contreras, 22, participated in an INBRE internship in summer 2017. She said it had a huge impact on her life and as a first-generation Hispanic college student, “the experience on its own was incredibly special for me.”
“Before the internship, I was actually struggling to find a major — something I was passionate about,” she said. Contreras took Rice Doetsch’s microbiology class. “I did pretty well in the class, but never really felt confident in the biology and science department.”
Rice Doetsch encouraged her to apply for INBRE and Contreras was hesitant, but did. “Amy definitely motivated me to push myself out of my comfort zone,” Contreras said.
She was selected and did an internship with the Twin Falls County Pest Abatement District, with research focusing on the production of black flies and water levels in the county.
As a result of the internship, “I just realized that I wanted to become a wildlife biologist,” Contreras said.
She’s pursuing an associate’s degree in biology—healthcare at CSI. Once she graduates by fall 2019, she’d like to transfer to Northwest Nazarene University to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology with a concentration in wildlife/ecology.
Contreras said the INBRE experience boosted her confidence and she has been taking harder classes at CSI, pushing herself out of her comfort zone.
CSI student Spencer Cowan, 29, did an internship this summer at the Twin Falls County Pest Abatement District. He’s studying biology—healthcare and plans to graduate with an associate’s degree in May.
Applying and getting accepted into the program “was an experience in and of itself,” Cowan said. “It was eye-opening in the field to be actually doing research” applying what he learned in the classroom, writing a research poster and presenting it at a conference.
He plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from Boise State University and wants to go to medical school to become a physician.
Alvin Sihapanya, 21, did research during spring semester through INBRE with a fellow student about a decline in milkweed and its effect on monarch butterfly populations. As a student who’d never written a scientific paper — and especially, a more professional one — INBRE was an eye-opener, he said.
Sihapanya plans to earn an associate’s degree in biology from CSI and then enroll in a pre-medical program to become a physician.