USF Doctoral Student and Teacher Wins Grant

The research is aimed at helping the Tenoroc Wildlife Management Area.


By Daylina Miller News Intern


TAMPA, Fla. (June 7, 2010) – Two miles east of Lakeland lays Tenoroc Wildlife Management Area. Once mined for phosphate, the land is now owned by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and is known for beautiful biking trails, recreational fisheries and the extensive research being done there.


Unfortunately, it’s also known for an invasive species of grass that is choking surrounding plant life.


This year, Toyota and the National Science Teachers Association awarded Lake Region High School science teacher and USF doctoral student Angela Chapman a Toyota TAPESTRY grant for excellence and innovation in science education. Chapman’s proposal for the grant included fieldwork at Tenoroc to develop a plan for the removal of invasive cogon grass from the area.


Her high school students will also be involved in the research.


“These are high school students doing original research, which I think is pretty powerful,” Chapman said. “Even though it’s preliminary and simple, it’s really college-level research.”


The grant gave Chapman $10,000 to purchase equipment for Lake Region’s science program. She said this grant will allow her to buy lab equipment that most high schools will never have.


“It’s kind of exciting,” Chapman said. “It’s like Christmas shopping for this lab.”


Chapman plans to dedicate a five-week, four-hour day program this summer for research. The project will continue throughout the 2010-2011 school year. She has also requested an extra class period to teach a research class for the students who are involved.


The field work at Tenoroc will include determining population density, vegetation analysis, collection of plants for laboratory experiments, and treatment of cogon grass with potential allelopathic chemicals, extracts from one plant that inhibit the growth of another.


Student groups will use biochemical techniques such as chromatography and electrophoresis to identify candidates from whole plant extracts and computer-based protein modeling and alignment programs to investigate properties and related proteins. They will learn how to use biotechnology to extract DNA, create a DNA library and amplify potential allelopathic genes.


Upon completion of their fieldwork, Chapman’s students will present their findings via science fair presentations, websites, and through submission to peer-reviewed environmental science journals.


Part of Chapman’s research will involve a student’s science fair project, inspired by a class field trip to Tenoroc. Rosaline Pierre, a high school junior and aspiring pediatric nurse, created an extract that when applied to cogon grass roots, seems to inhibit their growth.


“I made wax myrtle leaf extract with two groups – a control and an experimental group,” Pierre said. “The control had cogon grass roots treated with water and the roots grew. The experimental group was treated with extract which inhibited the growth of cogon grass roots. In the end, the control group had a dramatic growth while the experimental growth did not have as much growth.”


These are exciting results, Chapman said. So far, methods of removing cogon grass have been futile and harmful to the surrounding environment. Controlled burning has not been effective and chemical “weed killers” can contaminate groundwater.


Chapman was one of 79 teachers selected from more than 500 applications to receive the grant this year. She was ecstatic to receive the news because it is her big break into scientific research, a life-long ambition of hers that had to be put on the back burner for her love of teaching.


Now, she can combine the two.


Chapman is currently a doctoral student art USF. Chapman has a strong background in science, with a bachelor’s degree in zoology and a master’s in biology, A teaching assistant position in graduate school led to her passion for sharing knowledge with her students. Her motivation to continue her education is to be the best teacher possible.


“I think part of it is that I really push my students and expect everything they’re possibly capable of,” Chapman said. “I feel like if I expect that from them, I should expect it from myself.”


Chapman wants to give her students a strong science background, especially students who are underrepresented in the science community. She feels that the Tenoroc research’s real world applications will inspire students to pursue science careers.


“I definitely teach a very diverse population of students and when you look at who become scientists, you don’t see that diversity in the careers and people out there,” Chapman said.


Chapman is finished with her coursework and is buckling down to study for her qualifying exams in September. She will also have to complete a dissertation, which will include looking at ways to improve curriculum so that it really reaches out to different kinds of students, what Chapman calls “culturally relevant pedagogy.”


“It’s about getting them from doing the boring kind of science to doing labs,” Chapman said. “It really appeals to them and I think it better prepares them for college.”


Daylina Miller covers student life.