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Preparing The Next Generation Of Stem Professionals: Integrating Computational Thinking Into An Applied Molecular Forensics Research Program


<p>The investigators are developing an integrated, multidisciplinary undergraduate molecular forensics curriculum that fosters an experimental mindset, providing a platform to transform the way students experience the application of technology in scientific discovery. Combining analytical procedures in microbiology, biochemistry, and bioinformatics with algorithmic and computational skills in computer science, the program is engaging students across the College of Science and Mathematics and the College of Engineering in educational experiences involving cutting-edge applied research through the lens of an initial focus: production of a working database of E. coli fingerprints for use in tracking environmental contamination. The curriculum is being delivered to over 1,000 students each year in multiple inquiry-based courses. These courses lay the foundation for a new emphasis in molecular forensics at Cal Poly, which leads students from the field, where E. coli is collected, to the laboratory, where the bacterial DNA is amplified and sequenced, to the computer, where the data are evaluated and archived in a database. Each lab module engages undergraduates in research with broad applications in the areas of food and water safety. Molecular forensics modules are integrated into the core of introductory courses at the Foundation level (freshman/sophomore), linking microbiology, biochemistry, and bioinformatics. At the Integration level (junior/senior), focused courses guide students in the construction and use of databases in molecular forensics. Two bioinformatics courses, one for life sciences majors and one for computer science majors, are being taught in concert to provide students with project-based experiences in multidisciplinary team settings. The student experience culminates at the Application level (senior project capstone) with teams of students working on research with environmental and health applications using the forensic database created in the program. The project is cultivating an undergraduate research community while contributing to the field of molecular forensics. As diseases caused by food-and-water-borne bacterial pathogens continue to be a major public health issue, the importance of developing efficient methods for tracking the sources of outbreaks cannot be overemphasized. Throughout the molecular forensics curriculum, students are contributing to the development of solutions for rapid identification of contamination sources in recreational and potable water as well as food supplies. Computer science students are gaining the real-world experience of working directly with clients in the development of science-specific software applications.</p>

Kitts, Christopher L
Cal Poly Corporation
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