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Discovery Scholars

Experiential Learning & Mentorship for First Year Students

The Discovery Scholars Program affords first year students the opportunity to begin researching their academic area of choice by selecting from a list of faculty designed programs tailored to help first year students thrive in an engaged hands-on environment:

Discovery Scholars Application is Now Open!


Diverse Scholars are paid a monthly stipend ($250) for the eight months of  September, October, November, December, January, February, March and April. That is $2,000 total in addition to gaining invaluable research experience. 

Research Experience

The Discovery Scholars program brings its students out of the classroom and immerses them into their field of expertise. These opportunities include research labs, a music hall, or Southern Colorado’s gorgeous natural landscapes.Students have an opportunity to develop close relationships with faculty members that will be part of their entire academic career.

Why Wait?

At most institutions, students have to wait 2-3 years to gain practical experience in their major program. The Discovery Scholars program brings its students out of the classroom and immerses them into their field of expertise in their first semester. 

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2023 Discovery Scholars Projects

Discovery Scholars is a mentor program that connects first year students interested in applied and basic research and scholarly activity to faculty mentors that could assist in scaffolding research opportunities.

Faculty mentors provide active mentorship within a student’s area of discipline, and mentor students through all aspects of the research/scholarly activity process, including: Design of activities, nurturing proper techniques, data collection and analysis, reporting, publication and presentation of research findings.

College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics


    Biology: Reptile Immunology & Conservation

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Fran Sandmeier, Associate Professor Biology

    Find Out More about Dr. Sandmeier's Discovery Scholar's Experience

    Project Details: Our lab studies reptile immune responses in a captive colony of Mojave desert tortoises on campus. Work includes assessing functions of white blood cells and growth rates of natural bacteria in their nasal cavities. We also work on projects to assess the health of wild reptile species, including ornate box turtles and the all-female species of the Colorado checkered whiptail.

    Student Outcomes: Students will be trained to carefully handle and examine the animals and to take and analyze small blood samples. All students will work together to learn to collect, manage, and analyze data. Additionally, students will increase their scientific literacy by reading and interpreting similar studies at other locations.



    Biology: Threats to Migratory Songbirds

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Claire Ramos, Associate Professor of Biology

    Find Out More about Dr. Ramos' Discovery Scholar's Experience

    Project Details: Conservation of migratory songbirds can be particularly challenging as these animals require three distinct habitats for successful completion of their life cycle: breeding habitat, wintering habitat, and migratory habitat. The migratory phase of the life cycle of these animals may be the most critical as migratory behavior is physiologically stressful and dangerous. This was clearly demonstrated by a mass migratory songbird die-off that occurred in early Sept. 2020 in the southwestern United States. Thousands of dead migratory birds were found over the span of just a few days. It is thought that this die-off was a result of a lethal combination of drought conditions reducing food availability, poor air quality caused by wildfires, and a freak snowstorm. Migratory banding stations can provide valuable information to better understand the threats that migratory birds face enroute to and from their breeding grounds. Migratory songbirds will be captured from local field sites in areas heavily used by migrating birds. We will use mist-nets to capture the birds and take various measurements to determine overall physiological condition of the birds. Birds will then be released to continue their migration.

    Student Outcomes: Students will be trained in mist-netting, including how to handle the netted birds with care for the concern of the health and well-being of the animals. There are also opportunities to learn laboratory techniques to measure physiological stress. Information about migration will be provided through lab meetings and readings from primary literature.


    Biology: Phage Hunters

    Faculty MentorDr. Amaya Garcia Costas, Assistant Professor of Biology

    Find Out More about the Phage Hunters Experience

    Project Details: Bacteriophage (phage) are a type of viruses that infect only bacteria. Although invisible to the eye, they are thought to be the most abundant biological entities on Earth, with some estimates indicating that there are 10^31 phage in the planet. Incredibly, phage are estimated to kill as much as 40% of the ocean's bacteria every day. CSU-Pueblo students will sample local habitats and isolate bacteriophage using microbiology techniques such as the plaque assay. Once these novel phage are isolated, CSU-Pueblo students will characterize their phage using electron microscopy and molecular biology approaches such as DNA isolation and restriction enzymes. Lastly, the genomes of selected phage will be sequenced and CSU-Pueblo students will manually curate every gene in the genome using bioinformatic tools such as BLAST and HHPred, and gene annotating programs such as Glimmer. Students will be able to explore structure-function relationships of selected gene products and probe the evolutionary relationships of their isolated phage to known phage. HHMI will sponsor the attendance to their annual symposium of one faculty member and one student participating in the program. In addition, students will be able to write a Genome Annotation paper to submit for publication, and to design future experiments on their phage (eg. targeting specific genes, or specific phage processes) that they can carry out as research students after this program has ended.

    Student Outcomes: Students are taught standard molecular and microbiology lab techniques such as pipetting and aseptic technique as well as how to keep a lab notebook. The bioinformatics component includes introductions to common search engines and genetic databases. Students get to name their own phage.


    Biochemistry: Understanding the Mechanism of DBF & its action on g-crystallin aggregation

    Facuty Mentor: Dr. Cassidy Dobson, Associate Professor of Chemistry (Biochemistry)

    Project Overview: Disulfide Bond Forming Enzyme (DBF) is a known molecular chaperone from the archaea, Sulfolobus solfataricus, and has been shown to rearrange incorrectly made disulfide bonds despite the absence of internal cysteine residues, making its mechanism unique and elusive. Our hypothesis centers around investigating the unique mechanism enabling DBF to rearrange incorrectly made disulfides despite its absence of internal cysteine residues. Additionally, we are interested in using g-crystallin proteins as a test case to see if DBF has the ability to prevent or disassemble pre-made disulfide-mediated protein aggregates.

    Student Outcomes: Students who participate in this research will have the ability to recombinantly express, purify and analyze proteins using E. coli as the expression system. Students will become familiar with sterile techniques, UV-Vis spectroscopy, IMAC purification and potentially analytical size exclusion chromatography. In addition, students will gain necessary skills in scientific communication through weekly group meetings and oral presentation(s) at local, regional, and even national conferences. Students will also have the opportunity to contribute to scientific journal articles based on the results obtained from their research.



    Cannabis Science: High-throughput screening of therapeutic effects of minor cannabinoids using a novel insect model system (Dr. Sang Park)

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Sang Park, Institute of Cannabis Research Senior Scientist

    Project Details: Invertebrate models traditionally conferred distinctive benefits over vertebrate models. The major benefits include the ease and low cost of rearing large number of specimens, and also enabling researchers to monitor multiple generations of genetically homogeneous population. Among the insect model systems, Dr. Sang Park focused on the tobacco hornworm, Manduca sexta, as a novel insect model system for cannabinoid research. The insect model has a long history in research in insect physiology, biochemistry, neurobiology, and drug interaction studies. Thus Dr. Park utilizes the system to investigate pharmacological functions of minor cannabinoids, particularly studies involving non-CB receptor mediated pharmacokinetics. The relatively short life cycle and small size of M. sexta allow researchers to study the impacts of a cannabinoids over multiple generations that will allow for an experimental design in higher mammal model organisms.

    Student Outcomes: Students will experience the novel invertebrate model system for cannabis and cannabinoids research. Students will explore unknown therapeutic functions of cannabinoids. Students will learn the defensive roles of cannabinoids against natural enemies.


    Chemistry: Modification of Polymers through Nanomaterials

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Richard Farrer, Associate Professor of Physical Chemistry 

    Find Out More about Dr. Farrer's Discovery Scholars Experience

    Project Details: Since the students will not have completed General Chemistry, much of the initial work will be the fundamental chemistry that is involved in polymer chemistry and nanomaterials. Initially, student will be tasked with the production of polymer samples through a handful of different methods, including direct laser writing (DLW), electrospinning, and 3-D printing.

    Student Outcomes: Students will create nanomaterials (gold nanoparticles, nanowires, quantum dots, etc.) in the laboratory, and will explore the differences between the nanomaterials and the bulk materials. Analysis of polymers and nanomaterials will introduce students to microscopy (both light and electron), thermogravimetric analysis (TGA), differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), and chemical analyses. Students will be expected to present their work at group meetings and possibly at campus symposia.


    Math: The Science, Mathematics and Stories of the Struve Geodetic Arc Survey of 1816-1855

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Bruce Lundberg

    Project Details: The Project will explore the scientific and mathematical determination of the shape of the earth, which is still ongoing. It will focus on the science, math, people and places of the Struve Geodetic Arc Survey. The Survey was led by astronomer Frederick Wilhelm Struve over the years 1816-1855 and over 2820 kilometers through 10 countries from Ukraine (Black Sea) to Norway. Thirty four of the 265 station points in 258 main measured triangles are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites exhibiting outstanding international cooperation producing great advances in knowledge of the earth’s shape and size, and topographical mapping techniques. The mentor visited sites in Sweden and Finland in 2021-22.   

    Student Outcomes: Students will discuss readings, research tasks and reports in weekly team and individual meetings. Integration of preliminary results and task adjustments will result from ongoing discussions.  A final team paper and presentations will be discussed and edited in the final two months. Student individual and team reports and presentations will involve combinations of science and math, geography, history and biography, and K-12 teaching through stories related to the Struve Survey. 


    Engineering: Artificial Intelligence in Daily Life

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Bahaa Ansef, Associate Professor of Engineering 

    Project Details: The AI system started to be part of human life and is affecting our lives in different ways. Smart applications like visual, text, interactive, functional and, analytic AI systems will shape the future of the current and future generations. To be an effective part of this AI revolution, virtually everyone will need a basic understanding of the technologies that underpin machine learning and artificial intelligence. Therefore, this project will be suitable for all degree majors. The proposed project aims to create an active learning environment for a group of discovery scholars (students) to understand the basics of AI technologies, systems, and ethics.

    Student Outcomes: The students will learn to use free web-based tools to develop AI systems to solve daily life problems like time management budget optimization, image text, and sound recognition. The final products will be a group of small AI-based projects that were suggested and developed by the students and can be presented in the science and technology symposiums or conferences inside and outside the university.


    Civil Engineering: Transportation & Construction

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Hasan Faisal, Visiting Assistant Professor, School of Engineering

    Project Details: Prepare to embark on an intriguing and captivating civil engineering research project that delves into the captivating realms of transportation engineering, construction materials, and the environmental components of sustainable construction. This comprehensive project encompasses a wide array of topics, including plastics in asphalt, pavement materials, railway systems, intelligent transport, and AI-driven electric smart vehicles. The primary objective is to explore innovative solutions aimed at enhancing the efficiency, safety, and sustainability of transportation infrastructure. Thorough investigations will be conducted to examine the integration of plastic waste into asphalt mixtures, analyze the performance characteristics of pavement materials, optimize railway infrastructure, and develop intelligent transport systems by harnessing advanced technologies while examining their impact on user experience and safety.

    Student Outcomes: Anticipate an extraordinary educational journey within civil engineering. This project offers exceptional learning experiences and opportunities to cultivate invaluable skills. Students will:

    1. Immerse themselves in plastics in asphalt, revolutionizing sustainable pavement materials.

    2. Explore intricate railway system intricacies for efficient and reliable transportation networks.

    3. Venture into the fascinating realm of intelligent transport and AI-driven electric smart vehicles, shaping the future with cutting-edge technologies.

    Investigate the impact of these technologies on everyday life, delving into the language of STEM and fostering appreciation for scientific wonders. Additionally, students will present their findings at prestigious symposiums, fostering professional growth and unlocking exciting career prospects in transportation, materials, and sustainable engineering.


    Engineering: Supply-Demand of Energy

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Leonardo Bedoya-Valencia, Associate Professor, School of Engineering

    Project Details: Colorado is a diverse western U.S. state enriched with a large amount of both fossil fuel and renewable energy sources. Colorado’s location in the U.S. ensures the optimum flow of wind and sunlight making Colorado an important state in the sector of electricity generation. Currently, 30% of its electricity generation comes from the renewable industry, and the state electricity sector plans to attain 100% renewable energy by 2040. Increasing carbon emissions is drastically damaging our environment, which concerns most of Colorado's population. Residential customers are trying to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and have decided to adopt electric vehicles as a way to upset their CO2 emissions. This project targets three primary goals: the first goal is to determine the adoption rate of electric vehicles in the state over time. The second goal is to model the balance between the four supply sources and the peak demand for electricity in the state of Colorado under different adoption rates for electric vehicles. The last but not least important goal is to analyze the effect of electric vehicles on CO2 emissions and taxation, which would drive the solar and wind investment rate in the state’s electricity sector.

College of Health, Education, and Nursing (CHEN)


    The Adaptation to Nasal Breathing During Exercise

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. George Dallam, Professor of Exercise Science and Health Promotion

    Project Details: The project will involve pre-post testing human subjects testing as well as an ongoing training program. Ideally students will have completed EPER 343/344/344L. Students will then develop skills in a wide variety of physiological measurement techniques including the collection of VO2,VCO2 and ventilation using a metabolic cart, the measurement of both arterial and muscle oxygen saturation using infra red sensors, the measurement of blood lactate using a dry chemistry method,  and measurement of heart rate and heart rate variability using blue tooth transmitters. Participating student researcher must be willing to be flexible around scheduling based on subject needs. 

    Student Outcomes: This experience will require considerable hands on involvement on the part of the students who will engage in all aspects of the project including IRB application, testing, data analysis and formal presentation/publication.


    Food Insecurity among College Students: Prevalence and Social Determinants

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Priscilla Brenes, Assistant Professor, Health Sciences and Human Movement

    Project Details: Students will collaborate with a professor of Health Sciences and Human Movement to investigate the prevalence of food insecurity among college students as well as its social determinants. Students will conduct a literature review on food insecurity and socioeconomic determinants in college students. This will be a mixed-method, epidemiological study. We'll create an online survey tool to assist us to better understand the prevalence of food insecurity among college students and the factors that influence it. We'll use descriptive statistics to examine the survey data, and an inductive coding approach to analyze the data from the open-ended questions.

    Student Outcomes: The student researchers will learn how to create tools, collect and analyze quantitative and qualitative data on food insecurity and social determinants. Students will also improve their scientific literacy by reading and evaluating similar papers as well as writing a literature review. The student researchers will design materials to disseminate the findings of their research.

    Teaching Sustainability in Outdoor Physical Activities

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Christine Rochester, Professor, Health Sciences and Human Movement

    Project Details: Student researchers will investigate the effectiveness of sustainability education in program called "Outdoor Physical Education. and sustainability. Students will do this by designing and implementing a pre and post test and leading focus group interviews.  They will also determine the results and present them.  

    Student Outcomes: Students will learn how design reliable instruments, collect data, analyze data and make a research presentation. 



    Campus Nutrition Study

    Faculty Mentors: Dr. Bethany Kies-Bolkema and Dr. Tina Twilleger

    Project Details: Dr. Bethany Kies-Bolkema and Dr. Tina Twilleger will be conducting research on nutrition for the campus community. The project will involve a needs assessment on nutrition deficiency on our campus with students and athletes. The project will also involve cooking classes for students to teach and evaluate their teaching skills. Data will be collected on nutrition deficits and outcomes of teaching cooking classes.


    Education: Perceptions of Students in Online Courses

    Faculty Mentor: Emily Mulvihill, Assistant Professor, School of Education

    Project Details: This research project will attempt to identify strengths and areas of opportunity for online courses at CSU Pueblo. Systematic observations and data collection by the participants will help to improve online instruction and results will be shared. Student researchers will investigate the effectiveness of online courses at the CSU Pueblo campus. Suggestions for strengths of online education and areas for improvement will be studied. Students will do this by designing and implementing a survey for students taking at least one online course and then by leading a focus group interview. They will determine the results and present them at the spring symposium. 

    Student Outcomes: Students will learn how to design reliable instruments, collect data, analyze data and make a research presentation. 

College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences


    Student Composition Performance

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. David Volk, Professor of Music

    Find Out More about the Composers Consortium 

    Project Details: Compose and perform your own music 

    Student Outcomes: Student will work within this group to help each other compose, produce, and record their own music in a live performance. Students will have a unique opportunity to be a part of the full creative activity of music making on a personal level and at a high level of personal achievement.


    Digital Frisking: Exploration of Surveillance cameras in New York City Neighborhoods

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Yunhan Zhao, Assistant Professor of Criminology

    Project Details: The New York Police Department (NYPD) claimed to have access to over 18,000 public and private surveillance cameras which could be used for traffic control, crime investigation, and counterterrorism. New York City Council passed the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act in 2020 which requires the NYPD to create and publish policies for all of its surveillance technologies. However, the NYPD has been vague about how the data acquired through various surveillance technologies are maintained and processed, who has access to the data, and how the data can and has been used. So, where are the cameras located? What types of neighborhoods are subject to a higher level of surveillance? Is it true that, as a rising public concern, areas with more racial/ethnic minorities are more heavily monitored, giving rise to a new phenomenon of “Digital Frisking”? Using the most recent geocoded data of surveillance cameras from the human rights organization Amnesty International, city infrastructures information, crime and sociodemographic statistics, this project allows us to explore the spatial distribution of surveillance cameras, discover potential spatial disparities of distribution and explain such disparities using theory-informed variables at the census tract level. Distribution patterns will be first studied through Exploratory Spatial Data Analysis (ESDA) and then explained by multivariate statistical modelings.   

    Student Outcomes: Students can expect to learn about policing-related sociological and criminological theories, spatial data structures, exploratory spatial data analysis (ESDA), basic mapping skills and multivariate regression analysis. Students will help with the literature review, designing research questions, and developing posters according to analytical results. 


    One Welfare: Social, Environmental and Animal Well-Being

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Michael Briscoe

    Project Details: This project will use the One Welfare framework to look at how social, environmental, and animal well-being are all interconnected. This includes looking at the relationships between economic growth and well-being, and how governments and communities balance the interests of different groups when making decisions and adapting to rapid social and environmental changes.

    Student Outcomes: Students will learn how to use research databases, write literature reviews, and collect and analyze data.  Students will help design and implement research tools (e.g. administrative data analysis, surveys, interviews).


    Southern Colorado Cannabis Industry Ethnography

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Aaron Johnson, Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology

    Project Details: The Southern Colorado Cannabis Industry Ethnography will explore the everyday lives of the folks who work in the legal cannabis industry in Southern Colorado using a combination of participant observation, in-depth interviews, and the analysis of discourse found in marketing and social media. As an inductive project, themes in the shared culture, conventions, and social dynamics of cannabis industry employees and business owners will emerge over time. However, the project begins with a particular concern for those engaged in the "dirty work" (Douglas 1966) of the industry and the ways in which they manage the potential stigma associated with such.

    Student Outcomes: Student scholars will learn of the sociological approach to qualitative / interpretive research, as well as engage in age-appropriate fieldwork, conduct qualitative interviews, and content analysis techniques. Student scholars will participate in the analysis of data and present findings in academic venues. More so, they will gain an in-depth insight into what it means to work in the legal cannabis industry.


    The effects of smartphone interactions on psychological wellbeing

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Carla Zimmerman, Assistant Professor of Psychology   

    Can Your Smartphone affect your psychological well-being?

    Project Details: Numerous studies link problematic use of smartphones to negative mental health outcomes, such as loneliness. However, these studies rely on measures of smartphone addiction, rather than specific types of smartphone usage. Other research indicates that using a social app on a smartphone reduced psychological distress in people who felt ignored and excluded. This suggests that it might not be the smartphone itself that is problematic, but what people do with their phones. The purpose of this study is to examine how psychological wellbeing is impacted by different types of social smartphone usage.

    Student Outcomes: In the fall, students will work together to determine what kinds of smartphone interactions we will measure. Students will also complete ethics training for human subjects research. Once the survey design has been finalized, students will assist in preparing an IRB application for approval.

    In the spring, students will collect data from CSUP students using the methods developed in the fall semester. Following data collection, students will assist in preparing data for analysis, including coding of “Screen Time” information. After analysis, students will be mentored in creating presentations for submission to Student Research Week and, if scheduling allows, the Rocky Mountain Psychological Association annual conference.


    A Fair Fight: Outgroup Empathy and Cross-Party Support for Democratic Norms

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Ryan Strickler, Assistant Professor of Political Science

    Project Details: This study explores how cross-party empathy can foster support for voting rights, free speech, minority protections, and other legal norms important to democracy. These norms are integral to fair governance and electoral competition, but with rising polarization and partisan vitriol, their support amongst the public is at a nadir. I argue that encouraging good faith empathic concern – imagining and sympathizing with the mental state of individuals across party lines – bolsters support for democratic norms, even when violating these norms would benefit one’s own party.  Part political philosophy and part social psychology, this project points to the role that empathetic disposition and perspective taking can play in preventing authoritarianism in the United States.

    Student Outcomes: This project will rely partly on an original experiment that students will help design and implement. It will also rely on statistical analysis of nationally representative survey data. As such, students will gain experience with experimental design as well as survey data analysis and visualization. In addition, students will play an integral role in all aspects of the research process, from literature review, to theory building, to writing and revising a manuscript. In sum, students will receive well-rounded and robust training in social science research methodology.


    Black Lives Matter Protests & Police Reform

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Heidi Reynolds-Stenson, Assistant Professor of Sociology    

    Research how Black Lives Matter Protests have affected Police Reform

    Project Details: We will be able to test whether police departments in communities that have seen higher levels of BLM mobilization are more likely to subsequently adopt reforms, after controlling for other local factors which are likely correlated with BLM mobilization and police reform (e.g. city population, racial makeup, political climate, etc.). Creating this first nationally-representative dataset of police reform, and merging this with available data on police-caused deaths (from the Fatal Encounters dataset), will also allow us to test the effect of various police reforms on subsequent changes in the number of police-caused deaths in these localities in a way that is more systematic and rigorous than previous attempts at determining such effects (like those undertaken by the ""8 Can't Wait"" campaign). Finally, qualitative case studies will be conducted on select representative and anomalous cities identified through the quantitative analysis.


    The History of Pueblo

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jonathan Rees, Professor of History   

    Learn the history of Pueblo with Dr. Rees 

    Student Outcomes: Students will explore local archives for primary sources on subjects that interest them. They'll curate those sources, scan. them and interpret them. Then they'll publish them online using a program called Scalar so that the world can see them. This helps the archive because studies have shown that the more of their documents and photos that are available online, the more this drives visits to the physical archives or museums. This helps the students because they will have a permanent URL which they can show to anyone (including potential employers) that will demonstrate the quality of their work. This will also demonstrate their computer skills. The deliverable is obviously the project online. However, it is worth noting that the best projects I've been involved with have lasted multiple semesters, the later semesters building on previous work so some of these projects may not be done in a semester or a year, but they will be more than presentable after 14 weeks.

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