CEREUS (Consortium Exchanging Research Experiences among Undergraduate Students) is a National Science Foundation funded project working to address the need for more classroom-based undergraduate research experiences. Our four-institution group utilizes the expertise of project P.I.s and research students to create classroom-based research modules, focused around a single STEM theme: investigating responses of Southern Appalachian ecosystems to global change. In this project, P.I.s are creating inquiry-driven curricular modules, implementing new instructional strategies, and assessing student achievement and attitudes across four higher education institutions, including two public masters-granting institutions, a public liberal arts university, and a private liberal arts college. Modules are focused on four aspects of global change: native community responses to non-native invasive plants, phenological responses of species and communities to climate change, shifts in genetic diversity, and changes in carbon exchange patterns. This project has established a place-based educational network utilizing regional environmental issues to impart botanical knowledge while encouraging high-order cognitive processes, advancing quantitative literacy, teaching analytical techniques, honing scientific communication skills, cultivating more positive student attitudes towards plants and STEM, and improving persistence in STEM majors.
To date, our interventions have created a decrease in plant blindness, the tendency of biology majors to ignore or misunderstand photoautotrophs; that decrease was statistically significant at one institution. Students have also shown a greater appreciation for the value of biological research. Future plans include 1) expanding the consortium to include other regional institutions, 2) disseminating modules to potential users, and 3) developing mechanisms for a broader conversation regarding teaching tools to help address "plant blindness" issues.