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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:

Why become a Discovery Scholar?


Diverse Scholars are paid a monthly stipend ($200) for the eight months of  September, October, November, December, January, February, March and April. That is $1,600 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. 

2021 Opportunities

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: Ecology of Colorado Checkered Whiptail Lizards

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Fran Sandmeier, Associate Professor Biology

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

    Project Details: The Colorado Checkered Whiptail (Aspidoscelis neotesselatus) is a species of concern in Colorado, and is composed of all-female, asexually-reproducing individuals. These lizards are thought to occur primarily in protected areas, likely due to outdated and incomplete surveys conducted in the past in Pueblo and El Paso counties. In fact, this species is found throughout moderately and heavily urbanized areas in the city of Pueblo. Like many other species of small lizards, these animals often have high rates of death and injury close to urban areas, due to subsidized predators, such as feral cats, dogs, and racoons. Predator-avoidance can also decrease time the animals spend foraging and basking, thus decreasing general health. Scientists often use body size, evidence of tail-drops, number of ectoparasites (mites), and blood smears to quantify age structure and health in lizard populations. We will use these same techniques to understand what increases the quality of habitat for maintaining healthy populations of A. neotesselatus.

    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 it 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 the southwestern United States. Thousands of dead migrating 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 snow storm. Migratory banding stations can provide valuable information to better understand the threats that migratory birds face on route to and from their breeding grounds. Migratory songbirds will be captured from field sites in areas heavily used by migrating birds in the area. 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. Information about migration will be provided through lab meetings and readings from popular science literature (e.g. Living on the Wind by Scott Weidensaul) and 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.


    Chemistry: Carbon Dioxide Reduction

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Matthew Cranswick, Associate Professor of Inorganic Chemistry 

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

    Project Details: The reduction of carbon dioxide to value-added products, such as carbon monoxide, formate, methanol or methane is the subject of intense research as a possibility for the reduction of atmospheric and waste-gas carbon dioxide. We seek to reduce the need for a high pyridine to photosensitizer by incorporating a "molecular diode" into the ligand system to direct electron flow to the pyridine. In addition to possibly increasing the overall quantum yields and atom economy of the systems, and potentially improve the stability of the photosensitizer, we hope to incorporate the pyridinium active site into the ligand architecture of two different polypyridyl-ruthenium systems. The overall synthesis of these complexes, characterization and evaluation of catalysis is fairly extensive and can be submitted as a supplemental document if needed.

    Student Outcomes: Students will gain experiences in basic lab techniques, organic and inorganic synthesis, characterization and analysis of molecular compounds, and catalysis and kinetics. Moreover, these experiences will contribute to the students' understanding of concepts covered in general, organic and inorganic chemistry courses.


    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.


    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.


    Wildlife & Natural Resources: Wildlife Movement

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Nate Bickford, Assistant Professor of Biology/ Wildlife Program Coordinator

    Find Out More about the Wildlife Movement Experience

    Project Details: This project has the potential to provide benefits to society by providing the necessary scientific understanding for sustainable wildlife and land management by: 1) maximizing the available habitat and travel corridors for wildlife, and 2) creating a better understanding of what is needed to restoring wildlife habitat and travel corridors. Moving into an uncertain future, sustainable and resilient socio-ecological systems will be key for the maintenance of both human welfare and healthy wildlife populations.

    Student Outcomes: Students will gain experience by trapping and tagging wildlife. They will also learn how to track their migratory patterns over the course of the project.

School of Education


    Bringing "Real Life" Science Back into the K-12 Classroom

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Heather Caldwell, Associate Professor of Teacher Education

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

    Student Outcomes:Students will experience "real life" science through different coordinated experiences that will teach them how to bring these experiences back to their k-12 classrooms. Data collection will be lesson plans and reflections. Lesson plans and science kits will be created and donated to the School of Education Curriculum Center for future use.


    Adventure Based STEM Teacher Education Experiences

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Lynn Knight, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education

    Find Out More about Dr. Knight's Outdoor Education Experience

    Project Details: Build a group of diverse teacher education students to develop experiential, adventure based lessons, explore new opportunities with with STEM/STEAM with students in K-12 schools providing hands-on experiences and completing lesson plans and reflection journals on bringing more STEM, STEAM instruction and practices into any classroom. Teacher Education and others from the university interested can participate. Deliverables will be Adventure based, Experiential STEM/STEAM Experiences with the teaching candidates as well as with K-12 students within the local community area in activities that may include a 1 week camp if possible, Rocky Mountain Conservatory Experience, STEM/STEAM lesson plans to practice and take with them into their teaching after graduation.

    Student Outcomes: Participants will enjoy an Adventure based, Experiential STEM/STEAM Experiences with the teaching candidates as well as with K-12 students within the local community area in activities that may include a 1 week camp if possible, Rocky Mountain Conservatory Experience, STEM/STEAM lesson plans to practice and take with them into their teaching after graduation.

School of Health Science and Human Movement


    Legal Performance Enhancers

    Faculty Mentors: Dr. Bethany Kies-Bolkema, Associate Professor & Dr. Tina Twilleger, Assistant Professor, Health Sciences and Human Movement

    Find Out More about Team Performance

    Project Details: In this project, students will work with two professors in Health Sciences and Human Movement to explore the topic of legal, over the counter (OTC), performance enhancers. Using a mixed-method, epidemiological approach to this two-part study, we will first design an online survey tool and interview guide that helps us to better describe college student use of legal, OTC, performance enhancers as well as their understand their knowledge of the benefits and risks of such use. We will analyze the survey data using descriptive statistics, and the interview data using an inductive coding process.  Next, for part-two of the study, using a nested sample of participants, we will conduct standard fitness testing on two matched groups of students to find the association between having a “good” score on the tests and the use of legal, OTC performance enhancers. 

    Student Outcomes:The student researchers will gain skills in tool development, gathering and analyzing both quantitative and qualitative data related to health promotion and exercise science, and creating materials for dissemination of research findings.  The work will result in two presentations a the CSUP research symposium, and two research manuscripts.

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.


    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 be involved in the development of the survey, including determining survey questions and length. Students will discuss methods of recruiting participants while learning about sample characteristics and the pros and cons of different recruitment techniques. 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 and in preregistration of the study on the Open Science Foundation website. 

    In the spring, students will collect data using the methods determined in the fall semester. Following data collection, students will assist in preparing data for analysis, including coding of app usage screenshots. 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 or the CHASS SoCo Conference.


    Cannabinoids and Epilepsy

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Barbara Brett-Green, Associate Professor of Psychology   

    Find out more about Dr. Brett-Green's Discovery Scholar's Experience

    Project Details:The main goal  would be to provide opportunities for new undergraduate students to get involved in this research. The primary objective would be to train students to process, identify, and interpret physiological signals related to seizures. Involving new undergraduate students in research, rather than exclusively involving upper class students, has numerous advantages for both the students and the mentor. For example, there is the potential for the mentor to develop a longer-term relationship with the students, leading to more in depth training in the field. This approach simultaneously saves the PI from having to do more limited and repetitive training of students who are only available to participate in research for a couple of years at best. A longer training period also improves the potential for students to be included on peer-reviewed manuscripts that may be published prior to their graduation, thus improving their appeal as candidates for graduate school or other employment. In addition to training students how to conduct research, another objective would be to facilitate student participation in local, regional and national conferences to present their work.

    Student Outcomes: Discovery Scholars would likely be to participate in setting up the new lab, including setting up computer workspaces for multiple students, obtaining appropriate computer credentials, organizing existing material, etc. Once the lab is up and running, students would be trained to access and analyze the physiological data, maintain appropriate records, generate relevant images, etc. Students would also be responsible for acquiring and reading the relevant literature, participating in “brain storming” sessions related to future data analyses and potential grant applications. The ultimate goal would be to publish the results of the data analyses, including the Scholars as authors.



    Promoting Psychological Well Being for At-Risk Youth

    Faculty Mentor: Dr. Karen Yescavage, Professor of Psychology   

    Find out more about Dr. Yes' Discovery Scholar's Experience

    Project Details: There are three broad objectives of the undergraduate mentoring project, namely, (1) to implement the University's Vision 2028, realizing the goal of being the People's University, (2) to engage in a peer-mentoring program to promote community engagement and applied research with first-year students, and (3) to promote psychological well-being in K-12 schools through Creative Wellness practices (i.e., using creative and expressive arts) with youth who are at risk for adverse outcomes.

    Student Outcomes: The project aims to introduce students to the building blocks of conducting research, to include learning how to conduct a literature review searching for best practices associated with psychological well-being promotion in youth at risk for adverse outcomes and how to collaborate with a community partner, responding to their expressed needs. One long-term possibility for the new research team—subject to meeting the needs of community partners— would be to establish Creative Wellness spaces in Pueblo District 60 schools to provide youth a creative space to down regulate negative emotions in order to lessen class disruptions and school detentions. The ultimate goal of the team would be to conduct applied research using biofeedback equipment along with creative wellness activities, assessing their efficacy in helping youth regulate themselves and helping teachers remain focused on facilitating student learning.


    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 project, with co-PI Fernando Tormos-Aponte, political scientist at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, is currently in the pilot stage and we plan to launch the full study in Fall 2021. 


    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.


    Woman's Suffrage and Women's Voting Rights

    Faculty Mentors: Dr. Judy Gaughan, Associate Professor of History and Dr. Katie Brown, Assistant Professor of Spanish and Chicano Studies

    Discover the History of Women's Voting Rights

    Project Details: This would be a team-led project with two professors, one to mentor students with the historical research and the other to mentor Spanish-language research and translation. Students will use Southern Colorado newspapers and other written resources to contribute to a growing database of Women’s Suffrage and voting rights as they have played out in Southern Colorado.  Some of these documents are available online and some would be archival work. Students will do research in Spanish or English. 

    Student Outcomes: Students will work on translating that research to English or Spanish in preparation of a bilingual presentation of the information. Students could potentially do interviews of women’s experience of voting in English/Spanish The results of their transcriptions and translations will be posted on the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Southern Colorado Webpage. 

Spring 2022 Registration is Open

To register for Spring 2022 courses, students will need to meet with their academic success coach or faculty mentor, submit proof of vaccination or exemption, and self-register through Banner.

Registration Requirements

Submit Proof of Vaccination or Exemption

CARES Funding

Student wearing face mask

CARES Funding is available for eligible students to help pay for cost of attendance needs such as food, housing, childcare, health care, course materials, technology, tuition assistance, and other critical needs.

Discovery Scholars

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