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UMPI pilots Research Learning Experience

The University of Maine at Presque Isle will be piloting a new program this fall that provides students with hands-on, professor-guided research during their very first year of college. UMPI’s Research Learning Experience (RLE) program includes a 3-day bridge experience Aug. 24-26, just before orientation begins, as well as 15 hours of coursework that will be completed during the fall semester. First-year students interested in this opportunity—which includes free room and board for the 3-day bridge experience—are encouraged to sign up at www.umpi.edu/compass/RLE.

“We’re excited to be piloting this program,” UMPI Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Dr. Jason Johnston said. Johnston is leading RLE program efforts on campus. “Our Research Learning Experience will give first-year students a taste of what research is like and allow them to create new knowledge in their area of interest. These courses are not about lectures or reading textbooks: students will develop research questions, collect data, and report their conclusions. It’s a great way to kick off their fall semester.”

UMPI’s RLE program is part of the University of Maine System RLE initiative, which is supported by a generous donation from the Harold Alfond Foundation. The one-credit courses at UMPI provide a unique opportunity for students to come to campus early, meet friends and connect with upperclass peer mentors, and take part in hands-on research. Room and board is free for the 3-day bridge experience. For those opting to participate in a virtual RLE, meal gift cards will be provided to participating students.

UMPI students can select from among five offerings: four on-campus options—food insecurity, greenhouse food production, environmental resources, and data science programming—and one virtual option focused on understanding political extremism.

Working to Achieve Zero Hunger – A Research Learning Experience on Food Insecurity will be taught by Shannon Sleeper and Teri StPierre. In this course, students will conduct research on food insecurity on a global, national, and local level and develop strategies to achieve zero hunger. Through local community engagement, students will develop skills in research design, statistics, and communication.

Climate Change, Energy, and Critical Mineral Resources will be taught by Dr. Chunzeng Wang. Students will evaluate relationships among energy consumption, environmental hazards, new technologies, and sustainability. They will survey the scientific literature and conduct field work at local renewable energy facilities and mineral resource sites. The course includes one Friday afternoon field trip and one Saturday all-day field trip.

Optimizing Greenhouse Production will be taught by Dr. Larry Feinstein. This course will provide basic information regarding plant nutritional needs, soil properties, and fertilizer sources that could be used to optimize yields of produce. Fertilizer sources will include chemical and a variety of compost tea infusions that students make and test. Students will develop hypotheses and growing trial conditions to test how different fertilizer sources influence yields of greenhouse produce.

Data Science Programming Experience will be taught by Mark Royer. In this course, students will work through technical programming problems that arise when working with real-world, scientific data. To start, students will consult biologists or environmental scientists to determine a domain-specific data set to investigate for the semester. By course conclusion, students will gain experience with programming techniques for data analysis and data visualization.

The online RLE course Understanding and Responding to Violent Extremism and Terrorism will be taught by Dr. Brent Andersen. This course will examine the origins, manifestations, and consequences of political extremism, violence, and terrorism, using selected examples both from within the U.S. and around the globe. Students will employ research tools that scholars use to investigate these threats and the conditions which produce them, including opinion surveys, interviews, covert observation, and content analysis.

“The topics are varied and the opportunities for hands-on research activities are many. Students should sign up by Aug. 19 to ensure their preferred course option as spots are on a first-come, first-served basis,” Dr. Johnston said. “We’d encourage all of our first-year students to take advantage of this opportunity.”

To learn more about UMPI’s RLE program or to sign up, visit the RLE webpage.