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Center for Advancing STEM Teaching, Learning and Evaluation (CASTLE)

Discipline-based education research experience for Undergraduates.

The focus of the DBER REU program is on an emerging area of research – the use of models and representations in STEM. Undergraduate students from across the country spend the summer on the RIT campus doing major-specific research with STEM faculty mentors. The group present posters or give talks at the end of the summer Symposium session.


Summer REU in Model-based Reasoning in STEM Education
A hands-on research experience for undergraduates in the emerging area of Discipline-Based Education Research (DBER)

Thumbnail for DBER REU video.

Discipline-Based Education Research relates to the use of models and representations in STEM. This REU is hosted by the Science and Mathematics Education Research Collaborative at RIT. Questions? Contact us at

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Year at a Glance

January Jump Start
January 4th - 20th 2017. A $500 stipend will be provided for this off-campus jump-start on your summer research. During this time you will meet your project mentor using video chat and email to establish a research question of mutual interest, begin background research on your project, and take part in research ethics training. Time commitment is about 10 hrs/week.

Summer Program
Sunday, June 4th - Saturday, August 5th 2017. A $4500 stipend will be provided for the main on-campus summer research experience. Highlights of the summer experience include:
- A mentored research project
- Professional development
- Research methods training

Throughout the summer you will participate in a weekly Professional Development workshop focusing on areas such as the graduate school application process, STEM career pathways, scientific communication and networking skills. You will also take part in a weekly DBER research methods workshop to learn about and practice the quantitative and qualitative methods used in Discipline-Based Education Research.

Cohort-building activties
In addition to the structured workshops and ongoing research, you will have the chance to participate in a number of social activities with the DBER REU cohort.

Mentored Research Projects

Use of Models and Representation Discipline-based Education

Dr. Paul Craig (Chemistry) is interested in the development and analysis of laboratory simulation software for biochemistry.  Craig and research team have developed a number of simulations and are investigating their impact on student learning.  The research questions that frame this work focus on investigating the nature of interactions students have with the software and with each other during simulations.

Dr. Tina Collison (Chemistry) is reinventing organic chemistry lab instruction by developing studio lab modules based on evidence of how students learn.  Data is currently being collected at several institutions with varying characteristics (large/small, public/private, 2-year/4-year) in order to evaluate efficacy and transferability. Dr. Collison and team are investigating how students learn from the reformed laboratory modules.

Dr. Kate Wright (Biology) and Dr. Dina Newman (Biology) are investigating how bringing physical models of biomolecules into biology classrooms improve conceptual understanding of structure-function relationships that drive biological phenomena.  Preliminary work has suggested that physical, interactive models of genetic information flow help promote conceptual change in biology students.  Wright and Newmanare also investigating how modeling activities may impact biology knowledge of American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters and the connection between conceptual understanding and choice of ASL sign. 

Modeling critical skills in STEM Careers

Dr. Kelly Martin (Communications) and Dr. Benjamin Zwickl (Physics) collaborate on on the Photonics and Optics Workforce Education Research (POWER) project which explores the photonics workforce and how entry-level employees transfer their knowledge of math, physics and communication into their entry-level jobs. Previous REU projects have studied problem-solving among PhD student researchers in physics, computational and analytics math use among PhD research students, math use in optics companies, and optics skills and knowledge used in optics companies.  

Dr. Kelly Martin (Communications) and Dr. Benjamin Zwickl (Physics) also conduct the Exploring Multiple Postsecondary Opportunities through Workforce and Education Research (EMPOWER) project on the cultivation and use of 21st Century Skills such as problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and self-regulated learning, in STEM classrooms and workplaces. The study spans multiple STEM fields and REU students will be involved in projects investigating workplace practices in order to guide changes about how and what we teach in STEM courses and also to support policymaking around workforce development issues in STEM.

Conceptual Meaning in Underlying Representations in STEM Disciplines

Current physics education research by Dr. Scott Franklin (Physics) focuses on the meaning students and faculty give to mathematical representations. Conceptual meaning in physics is often expressed through mathematical formulae, and the meaning associated with symbols highly dependent on context. Symbolic forms are elemental relations associated conceptual schema with mathematical symbol, and articulate the conceptual and contextual meaning embedded in complex mathematical equations. Forms are context-dependent: two equations that are mathematically identical may have very different physics meanings. This research seeks to identify how the concept is embedded in equations and identifying new forms appropriate to advanced topics. Sample projects have included analyzing textbooks at all levels for different uses of equal signs ("="), studying an intermediate mechanics lecture that derived the amplitude of a driven harmonic oscillator, and parsing instructor language in a senior-level fluid mechanics lecture on conservation of energy and the Reynold’s Transport Theorem.

Dr. Dina Newman (Biology) and Dr. Kate Wright (Biology) investigate how students interpret and understand canonical representations in cellular and molecular biology, focusing on the inability of students to identify, construct, and utilize scientific representations.  Much of the previous work on how students use graphical representations has focused on identifying misconceptions, but the impediments to student understanding appear to be the result of fragmented or inaccurate conceptual knowledge, faulty mental models, and an inability to translate between different conceptual models or representations.  Past work has shown that and typical representations do not prime students to think about molecular mechanisms associated with information flow and exchange.  Wright and Newman are also collaborating with biomedical illustrators to articulate and test new design principles for biology symbolism. 

Dr. Kelly Martin (Communications) has an interdisciplinary background in communication and rhetoric with a focus on visual communication and design. Current research projects include developing an instructional schema of visual research methods and advocating for basic visual communication/design principles across the curriculum in higher education.

Models of student success that include metacognitive strategies

Dr. Scott Franklin (Physics) supervises research on undergraduate student metacognition, including accuracy of self-assessment, reflections on one’s own learning, and how students choose and design experimental investigations. The focus of this research is often a 2-week experience for incoming 1st generation and/or deaf/hard-of-hearing STEM majors in which students engage in activities designed to encourage metacognitive reflection about knowledge and personal identities that affect learning. Research students have analyzed artifacts of the Integrating Metacognitive Practices and Research to Ensure Student Success (IMPRESS) program from prior summers and taken new data on that year’s cohort for evidence of how metacognition effects disciplinary learning.


Jordan Cardenas - Rochester Institute of Technology

Jordan Cardenas, a third year Rochester Institute of Technology student majoring in Biotechnology, continued research he started during the academic year with Dr. Kate Wright and Dr. Dina Newman. Over the summer, as a student in the DBER REU cohort, Jordan investigated how biology textbook authors/illustrators convey scientific concepts through visual representations. More specifically he analyzed all of the different meanings conveyed by arrow representations throughout biology textbooks and determining their effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, in communicating correct ideas to student learners. His mixed-methods approach allowed him to master the qualitative analysis software, NVivo, as well as code visual representations and conduct think-aloud interviews with research subjects. Jordan, from Denver, Colorado, traveled to Minneapolis in July to present his research at the SABER (Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research) National Conference. His REU experience was very beneficial, and he enjoyed the extra time to work on his project and connect with the other students and mentors.

Brandon Clark - University of Maine

University of Maine senior Brandon Clark worked on two different projects over the summer. The first project was with Dr. Benjamin Zwickl and Dr. Kelly Martin as part of the Photonics and Optics Workforce Education Research (POWER) group. Using a qualitative framework, he coded interviews to better understand entry-level employee, supervisor and hiring manger perceptions of communication. The second project, with Dr. Kelly Martin, involved graphic design principles and visual communication theory. Together they looked at how to improve the visual communication within physics students’ research posters and presentations. Brandon developed guidelines to help students plan and organize the layout of their posters and slides for their presentations so they could effectively communicate research findings. He and Kelly lead one of the REU Professional Development Workshops where they discussed his research on best visual communication practices for STEM students in preparation for the Rochester Institute of Technology Undergraduate Research Symposium in August. When Brandon wasn’t working on his two research projects he was able to explore the Rochester area, traveling to Niagara Falls with the rest of the REU students. He had a great experience over the summer, finding the January Jump-Start essential in preparing for his research projects.

Catherine Clasen – Drake University

This past summer Catherine "Rin" Clasen worked with Dr. Dina Newman and Dr. Kate Wright, as well as fellow DBER REU student Megan Stefovich. Together they looked at the use of 3D models to improve understanding of processes related to the flow of genetic information. Data collection was done through student interviews and analysis of open ended questions. Interview subjects worked through the models and attempted to answer a series of guiding questions that are meant to help students scaffold and apply new knowledge. Video and audio data helped the researchers capture important data on how students are interacting with the models and what gains in understanding are made. Rin, from Chicago, is currently studying Secondary Education at Drake University. After college she hopes to teach biology at the highschool or middle school level. The REU was a great experience for Rin, bringing her to the East Coast for the first time, and she found the weekly workshops to be very valuable.

Amanda Matheson – Colorado School of Mines, Laura Wood – Seattle Pacific University

DBER REU students Amanda Matheson, a junior studying Physics at Colorado School of Mines, and Laura Wood, a senior studying Physics and Applied Math at Seattle Pacific University, worked together with Dr. Scott Franklin this summer on student responses to guided reflection forms (GRFs). They used a coding scheme to classify statements and language used in the GRFs and saw how student reflections changed from week to week. They also developed a separate coding scheme for the feedback given by the professor, and analyzed those responses for emergent themes. They also worked with RIT computational linguistic researchers to conduct sentiment analysis on both student and instructor texts, including word counts and affective intent. During their time at RIT Amanda and Laura appreciated the opportunity to collaborate with other research students and receive faculty support through weekly workshops. On the weekends they enjoyed participating in various REU social activities like the trip to Niagara Falls and game nights.

Katie Miller - University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Katie Miller, a senior majoring in Chemistry at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, spent the past year conducting research with Dr. Marilyne Stains. They used an observation protocol instrument called COPUS (the Classroom Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM) to look at instructor and student learning patterns in the classroom. This past summer, as part of the 2016 DBER REU cohort, Katie worked with Dr. Thomas Kim and they looked at misconceptions students have with visual representations of hydrogen bonding. Katie developed a coding scheme to code student responses in order to determine shortcuts they are using to get to their answers when asked about hydrogen bonding. Another project Katie worked on was using perceptual learning as a framework to understand student misconceptions of chemical resonance when presented with a representation of benzene's two resonance forms. Katie, who also minors in education, physics and mathematics, has plans to get her Masters in Science Education to eventually teach at the high school level. During her time at RIT Katie enjoyed being able to solely focus on research and meeting new people.

Katie Palmer – California State University, Monterey Bay

DBER REU student Katie Palmer currently studies liberal arts education at California State University, Monterey Bay. She got out of her comfort zone over the summer to travel across the country for her first research experience. Katie worked with Dr. Corey Ptak and they looked at the use of debate of complex topics in classrooms to see if it helped students’ progress intellectually and ethically. Using Perry’s Scheme of Development, Katie analyzed words from pre and post-debates of the topic of climate change. She categorized words obtained from data in both non-major biology and majors biology classes to see if there was a shift. Aside from research Katie was able to take advantage of her time in Rochester and went to Niagara Falls, the Rochester Public Market and Marketplace Mall. What she enjoyed most about the experience was the bond she created with her cohort, especially during their weekly Friday night game nights.

Brianna Santangelo – The College of New Jersey

DBER REU student Brianna Santangelo, from New Jersey, worked with Dr. Ben Zwickl and Dr. Anne Leak this summer. Brianna looked at how math is used in the optics workforce, specifically how it is learned on the job and how it is communicated to peers and customers. With her research she hoped to gain a better understanding of the hidden math skills, which will inform the teaching of mathematics within the physics curriculum so it is more applicable to students’ future careers. Brianna, a senior double majoring in Physics and Secondary Education at The College of New Jersey, has plans to attend Graduate school for Physics Education and teach in the high school or college level. She had a great time with everyone in the DBER REU group and found the workshops held each week very helpful.

Megan Stefovich - University of Wisconsin-Madison

DBER REU student Megan Stefovich, from the Rochester area, worked with Dr. Dina Newman and Dr. Kate Wright this summer. They looked at the use of 3D models to improve understanding of processes related to the flow of genetic information. Data collection was done through student interviews and analysis of open ended questions. Interview subjects worked through the models and attempted to answer a series of guiding questions that are meant to help students scaffold and apply new knowledge. Video and audio data helped the researchers capture important data on how students interacted with the models and what gains in understanding are made. Megan, a junior double majoring in Biology and Life Sciences Communication at University of Wisconsin-Madison, was excited about a possible side project with RIT-NTID ASL interpreters. The interpreters expressed interest in working with her and Catherine Clasen, another DBER REU student, in developing a workshop for science interpreters to help them better understand and communicate concepts about genetic information flow to Deaf/Hard of Hearing students. Megan has really enjoyed working with her cohort and all the mentors. She appreciated how invested they all are in the research projects.

Nicholas Young - Ohio State University

Nicholas Young, from Cleveland, Ohio, worked with Dr. Benjamin Zwickl as part of the Photonics and Optics Workforce Education Research (POWER) group this summer doing optics and photonics workforce research. Nicholas analyzed data about key job skills based on interviews with local employers, employees and graduate students. He specifically looked at the use of math in the workplace in terms of what topics are most important, what math tools are used, and how that varies between technicians, engineers, and graduate students. Nicholas, a senior at Ohio State University majoring in Physics and Astronomy, plans to enroll in Graduate school for Physics Education Research. He appreciated working with the REU group this summer as they shared the same interest in DBER (discipline-based education research).

2015 Cohort

Charles Bertram – University of Central Arkansas

Charles Bertram, a 5th year Physics major studying at University of Central Arkansas, has been conducting physics education research for the past two years. This past summer, as a student in the DBER REU cohort, he was working with Dr. Scott Franklin to study how deaf/hard-of-hearing and first-generation students can use metacognition to assist in the transition of going from a novice to an expert. Charles, who grew up in West Palm Beach and wants to teach post-college, has loved the opportunity to travel access the country to gain research experience. In addition, the DBER REU workshops he participated in while at RIT proved to be very beneficial.

Eli Church – UMass Amherst

DBER REU student Eli Church, an Amherst, Massachusetts native, worked on physics education research this past summer with Dr. Scott Franklin. She looked at how Physics professors present math in the contexts of physics classrooms – for example, when a professor writes an equation, how do they embed physical meaning or make explicit problem solving strategies. Eli has previously studied physics education research at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. Other research interests include gravitational wave and optics.

Kayla DeOca – Jacksonville University

DBER REU student Kayla DeOca, from Port Tobacco, Maryland, worked on a biology educational project this past summer with Dr. Dina Newman and Dr. Kate Wright. She conducted faculty interviews, reviewed textbooks and looked at student artifacts to gather data about expert and novice conceptions of meiosis. With this data Kayla categorized all the misunderstandings that occur in student learning in order to find a better way to teach the complex subject. Kayla, who attends college at Jacksonville University, has a strong interest in immunology and plans to go to grad school. Teaching at college-level is another interest of hers, one that she hopes to pursue after grad school. Kayla enjoyed spending her weekend’s on-campus as well as exploring the city of Rochester.

Joshua Deslongchamps – Texas State University

Joshua Deslongchamps, a 5th year Texas State University student double majoring in mathematics and physics, has previously conducted research on material science and semiconductors. This past summer, as a student in the DBER REU cohort, he worked with Dr. Benjamin Zwickl and Dr. Kelly Martin. His research project was studying how computational and analytical mathematics skills are developed during undergraduate studies and how those skills are used in entry-level STEM jobs and in PhD research projects. Joshua, who grew up in El Paso, is looking at multiple post-college options which include grad school for radiation therapy and the full-time job market.

Zachary Farley – Kennesaw State University

DBER REU student Zachary Farley, a Chemistry major studying at Kennesaw State University, has been conducting chemistry education research under Dr. Kimberly Linenberger for the past two years. This past summer Zachary and his mentor Dr. Paul Craig worked with software that stimulated protein separation by two dimensional electrophoresis, followed by protein sequencing by tandem mass spectrometery. They focused on designing an assessment tool for teachers to use in the classroom when they use the simulation as a teaching tool. This project allowed him to further explore the technology side of teaching. Zachary, who is from Powder Springs, Georgia, enjoyed his time at RIT. He was able to explore the Rochester area, travel to Niagara Falls and went on a trip to New York City.

Chloe House – Kennesaw State University

Chloe House, a senior majoring in Chemistry Education at Kennesaw State University, has spent the past two years conducting biochemistry education research with Dr. Kimberly Linenberger. This past summer, as part of the 2015 DBER REU cohort, Chloe investigated how students interact with an online learning tool, called the Interactive Video Vignette (IVV) for biology. Chloe evaluated the impact of IVVs on learning and helped the research team identify ways in which IVVs fail to be effective tools for biology learning. Chloe truly believes that IVVs are an effective learning tool and can’t wait to see them implemented in universities all over the country During her time at RIT Chloe enjoyed working with all the RIT mentors and students in the program. On the weekends she was able to experience many local activities include the Xerox International Jazz Festival.

Phyllis Liang – California State University, Fullerton

Orange County native Phyllis Liang worked with Dr. Newman and Dr. Kate Wright this past summer on a Biology Education Research project investing how scientific concepts and processes are depicted in biology textbooks. Phyllis was especially interested in how arrow symbols are used throughout textbook images and how they are interpreted, or misinterpreted, by students. Her work is important because it will help inform an improved scheme for arrow representation. Phyllis, a Cal State Fullerton senior majoring in Biology with a concentration in Ecology, enjoyed her experience with the DBER REU. She was able to make wonderful connections with other students and faculty mentors. When Phyllis wasn't working on her research project she was able to explore the Rochester area, as well as Niagara Falls with the DBER REU cohort and took a trip to New York City.

Alexander Rhoades – St. Mary’s College of Maryland

DBER REU student Alex Rhoades, from Carroll County, Maryland, worked with Dr. Tom Kim and Dr. Kelly Martin this past summer. He applied cognitive load theory to pictures in general chemistry textbooks to find common and consistent areas in which they create extraneous cognitive load. This “makes it difficult for students to learn because more of their brain’s active processing power is being used up by design flaws”. The goal was to create criteria that can be used to revise images, leading to enhanced student performance. Alex, who majors in Chemistry and English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, will be pursuing a career as a Chemistry Professor. He enjoyed rock climbing at the Red Barn and trying out local restaurants, including Sticky Lips, while at RIT.

Ivy Todd – St. Mary’s College of Maryland

DBER REU student Ivy Todd, a Bowie, Maryland native, worked with Dr. Tom Kim this summer. Together they developed a rubric to assess figures used in chemistry textbooks on the basis of the extraneous cognitive load imposed on students. Ivy determined which features of the images make interpretation complicated for students. The goal of her research was to create criteria that can be used to revise images, leading to enhanced student performance. As a student at St. Mary's College of Maryland, Ivy’s research interests include chemistry education and organic synthesis. She wants to continue undergraduate research at St. Mary’s and expressed interest in continuing on in that field after graduation. While at RIT Ivy had fun exploring the Rochester area.

Jarrett Vosburg – SUNY Geneseo

Centerville, NY native Jarrett Vosburg worked with Dr. Benjamin Zwickl and the Photonics and Optics Workforce Education Research (POWER) group this past summer doing optics and photonics workforce research. Jarrett studied problem solving skills used by graduate students in the physical sciences and engineering. He interviewed graduate students, categorizing the types of problems they encounter while conducting PhD-level research and looked at how it matches up with the undergraduate curriculum. By understanding the types and ways graduate students solve problems, his hopes were to to influence the undergraduate curriculum in order to better prepare students for the workforce or graduate research. Jarrett, a SUNY Geneseo senior Physics major, with certification in Physics Education and General Science, has interest in teaching at the high-school level after graduation. He appreciated working with the DBER REU group this past summer as he’s was able to gain insight into the teaching field.

Travel to RIT


Participants will need to make their own travel arrangements to and from Rochester, NY. A limited number of travel grants are available to help defray travel costs. Part 2 of the application asks if you would like assistance with travel costs.


For students that drive to RIT, parking is available on campus.


The Greater Rochester International Airport (ROC) is a 15 minute drive from RIT, and the most convenient airport for coming to Rochester.

Living at RIT


REU participants will live in at RIT's Global Village, a state-of-the-art global living experience and community. Each furnished suite contains five separate bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a common living area complete with kitchenette. Learn more about Global Village at their website here

Laundry Services Washer and dryer machines are available for use at no charge. You need to provide your own laundry detergent.

Appliances The kitchenette does not include a microwave or coffee machine. 

Linens You will be provided with two flat sheets, two towels, one washcloth and one cotton blanket. You must bring your own pillow.

Additional items Think of Global Village as your apartment for 9 weeks, so bring anything that you will need during that time. There are buses to transport you to local shopping centers and the mall so you can also purchase items once you arrive in Rochester.

Food and Meals

Participants have several options for purchasing food and meals on campus. For a list of campus restaurants, cafes, and food courts visit RIT Dining Services. Multiple grocery stores and shopping centers are located within 10 minutes from campus for students who prefer to use the kitchenette to prepare meals.