New Colorado State University Undergraduate Program Blends Biology and Math

Preparing a new generation of biologists and mathematicians capable of interdisciplinary collaboration will be the goal of a new Colorado State University undergraduate research program, funded by a $900,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The Flexible and Extendable Scientific Undergraduate Experience, or FEScUE, will engage undergraduate students and faculty in multiple academic departments at Colorado State by providing scholarships and summer stipends to support undergraduate research.

FEScUE ( participants will span many programs, including mathematics, biology, biochemistry, statistics, computer science and the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory (NREL).  Participants will learn through team-based, interdisciplinary research in the initial areas of ecology, bioinformatics, and structural biology. The program encompasses several areas within Colorado State’s College of Natural Sciences and Warner College of Natural Resources and is designed to extend to faculty and students from all parts of the university campus.

The principal investigators of the project and their respective departments are Simon Tavener, mathematics; Mike Antolin, biology; Don Estep, mathematics and statistics; John Moore, NREL; and Colleen Webb, biology.

"We want to ensure students enrolled in the program are immersed in the scientific language and culture of both life sciences and mathematical disciplines," said Tavener, chair of the Department of Mathematics and co-director of the program. "I hope to show the next generation of mathematicians the role they can play in the ongoing revolution in the biological sciences."

Students will begin with a series lower division "gateway" courses and move into more advanced "fusion" courses.  In the summers, students will gain research experience through participation in faculty-directed research projects. Special seminars and career advising will also be available.

"Science is increasingly an interdisciplinary collaborative endeavor that requires multiple skill sets and the ability to interact with others," said Moore, co-principal investigator and director of the NREL.

FEScUE has two primary goals, said Mike Antolin, assistant chair of the Department of Biology and co-director of the program. One is to prepare students for interdisciplinary scientific careers.  The second is to spur a curriculum change that will create lasting support for educating students via research experiences that integrate mathematics and the life sciences.  

"Students at Colorado State will be the beneficiaries, being shown the path to successful careers in an increasingly data rich-world," Antolin said.