During his twenty years at Cal State Fullerton, William “Bill” Hoese, Professor of Biological Sciences, has demonstrated an incredible commitment to innovative teaching both in his ornithology classes where his students study birds and in the field. of research. But beyond his commitment to summer hands-on research, Hoese champions student-led learning — a teaching model that earned him recognition as a CSUF Outstanding Teacher in 2021.
After receiving this honor a year ago, Hoese appeared before faculty, staff, and students on February 24 to deliver his 2021 Outstanding Professor Lecture. Hoese put the importance of undergraduate research in ecology and environmental biology at the forefront of the conference, highlighting his work with the Southern California Ecosystems Research Program, which is an intensive summer course that allows six undergraduate students to do research in group. They explore three different ecosystems in May and June.
When Hoese joined the campus community in 2000, he was asked to write grants for the National Science Foundation, and through this work he found a gap in resources for ecological research. His dedication to ecology and environmental biology as well as his passion for hands-on learning have helped SCERP grow and succeed, providing biology students with the opportunity to explore the world of the environment through a scientific lens. Today, he leads the program with Jennifer Burnaford, professor of biological sciences.
In addition to positioning students directly in the field, SCERP gives them the confidence to ask complex questions and work together to find solutions. The program succeeds in giving research students the freedom to shape their own path and improve their communication skills. By the end of the summer, Hoese said his students identified as scientists.
“It’s not like a traditional lab where students work to get results that are already known,” Hoese said. “Students learn to manage uncertainty, test different hypotheses, and pursue a scientific career with the knowledge they have acquired.”
With the help of peer mentors and professors, students lead their teams through a variety of different research questions with topics ranging from plant composition to oyster restoration and preferential parasitism.
Of course, the work that students do during the summer does not end with the start of the school year.
“The program includes an academic year seminar course focused on professional development and research skills,” Hoese said. “The students then present the results of their research in the fall and win prizes for their work. They conduct independent research with a faculty mentor for up to two years.
The program was initially funded by multiple NSF grants, but under Hoese’s leadership, it has been independently funded since 2017. Today, the program is supported by philanthropic donations.
He ended the conference with a look at the future of SCERP. The program will require some restructuring to make it work for a larger class of students, which Hoese says will be difficult because smaller groups allow students more flexibility to communicate and ask tougher questions.
However, despite the challenges ahead, Hoese said he is confident there is a way to overcome these obstacles, as he has already begun to institute course-based undergraduate research in his ornithology courses and found positive results.
To learn more about SCERP, visit the program’s website. You can also watch the full lecture via the Faculty Development Center website.