Warren Wilson College Awarded $129,000 NSF Grant

Warren Wilson College is the recipient of a three-year, $129,000 National Science Foundation Division of Undergraduate Education grant to investigate Southern Appalachian ecosystems’ responses to global change.

The College along with three partner Appalachian institutions—UNC Asheville, East Tennessee State University and Appalachian State University—will “create common gardens and to develop modules that can guide students’ research studies to address potential impacts of global change at multiple levels of the biological hierarchy, from genes to ecosystems,” according to the award abstract.

Through the partnership, four colleges will create native plant gardens in their various locations to monitor the timing of flowering, pollinator visitation and seed production. Patterns found in the data from each school garden will be compared with historical patterns to evaluate plant species’ responses to climate change. The aggregate data will also be shared with the USA National Phenology Network’s citizen science database—Nature’s Notebook. Warren Wilson College’s garden will be established during the 2016 spring semester.


As the only private liberal arts college in the partnership, Warren Wilson College’s Department of Biologywill be using the grant to purchase equipment and create paid internships for students to work on the project over the next three years.

“This project is based on the idea that our biology students are going to learn best, be most interested in science and be retained in the sciences if they are tackling real-world problems or interesting scientific questions that go beyond the classroom,” said Alisa Hove, Ph.D., biology professor, who worked with fellow Warren Wilson College professor Amy Boyd, Ph.D., to secure the grant. “It gives our students the opportunity to engage with the process of science. Not just in the community of Swannanoa, but to think of the work that they’re doing as having a statewide, national and even international audience.”

Warren Wilson College students are known for their research abilities and have won numerous awards from the North Carolina Academy of Science, and these competitive internships offer learning opportunities for students to expand their investigative capabilities. Interns will have the chance to either participate in field work creating the gardens, collecting data and designing experiments or focusing on medicinal botany or molecular biology to help characterize the genetic diversity of medicinal plants native to the Southern Appalachians.

“I’m particularly excited about the grant’s internships to support student involvement in our scientific and pedagogical research,” said Boyd. “Also, the collaboration across diverse institutions provides a great opportunity to study the effectiveness of our teaching modules with a large number of students.”

While interns play a large role in the success of the project, students enrolled in Consortium Exchanging Research Experiences for Undergraduate Students (CEREUS)—an educational network utilizing regional environmental issues to impart knowledge while encouraging process-based learning, teaching, analytical techniques and honing scientific communication skills—courses will help to develop and implement subprojects addressing relevant ecological questions. The data collected in the classroom will be used for analysis that will ultimately be submitted for publishing in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

“This project is based on the notion that students learn about science when they are motivated and challenged by the process of ‘doing’ science,” said Hove. “This partnership allows us to collaborate and work on ways to integrate botany and plant biology into the classroom while also giving our students the opportunity to ask thought-provoking scientific questions.”