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Undergraduate Research

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TMCC is involved in a variety of efforts to increase student participation in undergraduate research and is part of the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative (CCURI), a national consortium of organizations dedicated to integrating undergraduate research (UR) experiences into community college STEM programs.

Undergraduate Research was identified as one of the most powerful tools for promoting deep learning.

Investing in Impact: The Power of Undergraduate Research, 2015

According to the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR), there are a variety of benefits of undergraduate research, including:

  • Enhances student learning through mentoring relationships with faculty
  • Increases enrollment in graduate education and provides effective career preparation
  • Develops critical thinking, creativity, problem solving and intellectual independence
  • Develops an understanding of research methodology
  • Promotes an innovation-oriented culture

No other school experience I have had contributes more to my excitement about learning, provides concrete knowledge of the material, or equips me with the real-life skills necessary to be successful in the future than this SEA-PHAGE project has done.

Kimberly, TMCC Student

Current Undergraduate Research Projects and Grants at TMCC

Effect of Stratification & Seed Manipulation on Milkweed Germination & Growth

We recently received funding from the Nevada INBRE Pilot Grant program to support student researchers in locating, harvesting, and germinating milkweed seeds under various experimental conditions. Our research goals are to determine variables that maximize germination, growth, and survivorship of narrowleaf and showy riparian milkweed species along the Truckee river corridor to ultimately facilitate monarch butterfly habitat. Milkweed populations throughout North America have experienced significant decline over the last few decades.

Nationally, conservation efforts to maintain and restore milkweed habitat is focused on monarch butterfly conservation, as milkweed serves as the sole host plant for larvae. The recent and rapid decline of monarchs in the western U.S. has prompted their listing under Federal protection this year. While much restoration is occurring along the Truckee river corridor (northwest Nevada) to protect both water quality and riparian/aquatic ecosystems, there has been no effort to address riparian milkweed species such narrowleaf milkweed and showy milkweed.

Additionally our data will greatly contribute to the understanding of narrowleaf and showy milkweed biology; currently, there is minimal research on the biology of either species. Aside from facilitating habitat restoration and contributing to the scientific community, our milkweed research also serves to engage students with the community at-large through partnerships and outreach opportunities.

At the end of this grant-funded project, we will transplant the milkweeds along the Truckee River corridor. Our future goal is to establish a long-term data set to better understand aspects of milkweed phenology and life history and investigate use of these milkweeds by monarch butterflies. As a long-term project, this research would be focused on engaging students in scientific research, ideally as a course-based research experience (CURE) for science lab courses at TMCC.

BioResearch Summer Workshop

Each summer, Nevada IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (Nevada INBRE) provides support for STEM-related activities and courses that are part of the Success First Summer Bridge program at TMCC. The following summer, up to 24 former summer bridge students are invited back to participate in the INBRE-supported TMCC BioResearch Summer Workshop.

During this five-week, hands-on research experience, participants learn bacteriophage collection, culturing, and purification techniques, electron microscopy, gel electrophoresis, DNA extraction and sequencing, and more. This summer experience culminates in a poster presentation of research findings. The goal of the INBRE grant is to increase the number of low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented minority undergraduates interested in and successfully working toward biomedical careers.


Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science (SEA-PHAGES) is a two-semester, discovery-based undergraduate research course. The first semester is run through BIOL 251 laboratory and begins with simple digging in the soil to find new viruses, but progresses through a variety of microbiology techniques.

The second semester is offered through BIOL 299: Special Topics, Bioinformatics and involves complex genome annotation and bioinformatic analyses. Students from the Bioinformatics course are chosen to attend the annual SEA-PHAGES symposium where they present their research as a poster.

The program aims to increase undergraduate interest and retention in the biological sciences through immediate immersion in authentic, valuable, yet accessible research. By finding and naming their own bacteriophages, students develop a sense of project ownership and have a ready-made personal research project at a fraction of the cost of traditional apprentice-based research programs. SEA-PHAGES is jointly administered by Graham Hatfull's group at the University of Pittsburgh and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Science Education division.

Trout Unlimited Local Salmonid Bacteriophage Research

The Trout Unlimited Sagebrush Chapter Conservation Grants seek to discover, purify and characterize local bacteriophage and their bacterial hosts from Northern Nevada waters for the purpose of contributing to the current body of knowledge in bacteriophage biology and to increase public awareness of the usefulness of bacteriophage for the treatment of bacterial infections.

Bacteriophage are viruses that infect bacteria and this program will focus on bacteriophage that infect and kill pathogenic bacteria known to cause disease in salmonids common to our area. These bacterial viruses could provide a treatment for common bacterial infections that could, under certain circumstances decimate our native fish populations. The objectives and goals of this proposal include the capture, purification and characterization of bacteriophage and host bacterium while providing a real-life research experience for local students.

Investigating Species Diversity Using Camera Traps

In BIOL 191L: Introduction to Organismal Biology Lab, taught by Dr. Meeghan Gray, students conduct independent research projects investigating species diversity using camera traps. These are remote cameras that take a photo based on heat and movement and capture wildlife species in the field. Over the course of several lab periods, student conduct background research on camera trap projects by finding and reading peer reviewed journal articles. They then develop a hypothesis, set up the camera in the field, collect and analyze data, and present their results to the rest of the class. This is usually the first research experience for most students at this level.

Students have done many projects over the years, including detecting scavengers at carcasses, looking for pine martens in Tahoe, looking for river otters on the Truckee River, testing lure preferences in birds and mammals, testing whether the presence of predators impacts bird feeder visitation rates, and testing toy and food preferences in coyotes. Students have worked with many Nevada state agency workers to test their hypotheses and worked with private landowners to determine species diversity in the local area.

Over the last 4 years, students have captured over 20 mammal species, including skunks, mountain lions, bobcats, gray foxes, and black bears. Students have also captured over 15 bird species, including golden eagles, turkey vultures, magpies, ravens and spotted towhees. These projects have been expanded to both sections of BIOL 191L and will be introduced into BIOL 112.

More on TMCC Undergraduate Research Grants and Projects

Student in Lab

NSF EPSCoR UROP award recipient, and TMCC alumnus, George Mwinnyaa (recently accepted to Johns Hopkins University)