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School for Science and Math at Vanderbilt

Community Engaged Research Projects

Throughout their first three and a half years, students at the School for Science and Math at Vanderbilt have partnered with numerous research-based organizations to tackle local questions in a didactic and experiential manner. In the final semester, the Community Engaged Research Projects are a way for our students to give back to their community using the unique scientific skill set that they have acquired during their tenure at Vanderbilt.

Projects are student-driven and output-driven, are facilitated by members of the Vanderbilt and Nashville community, and have made a positive impact on our community.

Examples of projects have included:

  • Working with Vanderbilt Pediatrics to tackle childhood obesity in Nashville
  • Working with the Vanderbilt Institute for Energy and the Environment to quantify nitrate leaching in residential lawns
  • Working with Nashville Health Department to evaluate the effectiveness of their bike share, community gardens and animal wellness programs.

Students have presented their results at many different types of public forums including scientific conferences, Metro Nashville School Board meetings, and the Earth Day Festival.

Past projects have received accolades at research competitions, have helped form the backbone for larger-scale research projects, and have informed legislation and decision-making by the Metro government.

You can read below about our most recent CERPs.

Class of 2017 Projects

Google Fiber: Teaching Computer Literacy without Computers

Partner Organization : Google Fiber

Google FiberIn partnership with Google Fiber, SSMV students developed a curriculum to teach the basics of computer science without the use of computers. The curriculum aims to spark interest in computer science in middle and high school students who may not have access to a computer or the Internet at home. This offers an inexpensive alternative to a course that uses computers to teach computer science, which may be especially useful for rural school districts that are underfunded and/or lack the resources. The curriculum consists of four lessons, each roughly an hour in length.

The program was piloted with a group of twenty-two eighth-graders from Rose Park Middle School. The students were surveyed before and after the program, having them indicate their interest in programming and enjoyment of the course on a scale of 1-10. From the survey data, it was apparent that the students both enjoyed the course and became more interested in computer science as a result.

Adventure Science Center: BodyQuest Renovation

Partner Organization : Adventure Science Center

Adventure Science CenterThe Adventure Science Center Group surveyed patrons and developed a renovation proposal for several exhibits. Their three in-depth ideas involve redesigning the Brain into the Brain Maze, making a Defend the Cell game in place of the Mini-Med Center, and remodeling the Heart. They focused on making the exhibits as interactive as possible to engage visitors of all ages more in learning about the human body. In addition, their ideas are more relevant to school curriculum, incentivizing teachers and schools to bring their students to the Adventure Science Center. Their proposal, along with other professional proposals, went to the board of directors for consideration. 


Partner Organization : Nashville Office of Neighborhood and Community Engagement

hubNashvilleThe HubNashville project was conceived as a tool through which constituents could accomplish a wide range of tasks such as file reports on needs related to government agencies such as public works or water services, access information regarding government run facilities, and more efficiently and effectively connect to all municipal departments in general. Such solutions have met with great success in similar metropolitan areas such as San Antonio, Denver, and New York City, by establishing a central hub of information and services and by increasing overall government transparency and accountability, all of which lead to greater constituent satisfaction. Over the course of the semester, the project team gathered information about other major cities, became familiar with the project requirements and contributed ideas and suggestions for how to better align with the project’s business and technical aspects. They then presented their findings to Nashville Mayor Megan Barry for consideration.

TEC Restorations Project

Partner Organization : Tennessee Enviornmental Council

TECThis project was a partnership between the Tennessee Environmental Council (TEC) and the School for Science and Math at Vanderbilt (SSMV) to aid in the restoration of land on the banks of the Cumberland River. The main objective of this project was the creation of a 2-acre pollinator garden that would attract and protect native pollinator species such as butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. With a focus on the critical functions of pollinators in plant reproduction and ecosystem success, the group aimed to create a robust and diverse plant community that would require little ongoing maintenance while still providing necessary resources to pollinators at all stages of development. Although the project focused on a narrow portion of the 140-acre plot, the intention is for the pilot effort to have long lasting benefits towards integrating the restored ecosystem into the local community. The garden was designed to ensure both aesthetic appeal and responsibility towards native species with the intention that the area will one day become a useful public space with educational value in addition to an ecological value.

Soil Mapping and Analysis – TNFP Gardens

Partner Organization : The Nashville Food Project

TNFPThe Nashville Food Project (TNFP) supports individuals growing their own food in provided agricultural plots and distributing food to people who lack access to fresh produce. TNFP operates several garden sites in Nashville including raised beds at the McGruder Family Resource Center as well as a new site being developed near White Bridge Road. To better aid the families and volunteers who use these plots, TNFP wants to gather information on the health of the soil at these area gardens. Soil health and quality can affect what plants will thrive and what remediation techniques should be used. The results provided an idea of the variability of the gardens, as well as what remediation techniques TNFP should focus on to improve soil quality and productivity. The final product of the survey were four maps displaying the soil health parameters for each garden, and an informational poster to be displayed at each garden to aid gardeners and volunteers in understanding more about the soil content present and ways garden productivity could be affected. 

Nationwide Evaluation of Environmental Literacy Curriculum

Partner Organizations : Urban Green Lab

UGL The Urban Green Lab (UGL) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching Nashville residents how to make easy changes to live sustainably. The Mobile Lab, an essential component of Urban Green Lab, is a supplement to students’ science education in middle and high school, teaching them the importance and implementation of sustainability. The Mobile Lab is particularly important within the MNPS school district; Tennessee is one of eleven states that do not include environmental literacy in their mandated curriculum.

This project consisted of two complementary components, giving demonstrations and implementing the Mobile Lab curriculum and conducting an evaluation of environmental literacy curriculums nationwide. The findings indicate that there is a problem in making a full circle within sustainability education;  students are either left understanding a problem but are unprepared to solve it or are equipped with knowledge about changes they can make but no factual impetus to apply them.

VCAR Substance Abuse Prevention for Adolescents

Partner Organization : Vanderbilt Center for Addiction Research

VCARSubstance abuse and drug addiction are increasingly pervasive issues in the United States that not only result in thousands of deaths a year, but also cost the country billions of dollars annually. Due to their ubiquitous nature in our society, adolescents are exposed to numerous potentially harmful substances such as alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and opioids. This exposure in adolescents is especially troublesome considering that, during adolescence, the prefrontal cortex, the portion of the brain responsible for rational decision-making, is still underdeveloped.

The Vanderbilt Center for Addiction Research (VCAR) works to develop treatments for addiction by understanding its neuroscientific basis and approaching the concept through multiple disciplines. As an element of their outreach, VCAR partnered with the School for Science and Mathematics at Vanderbilt (SSMV) in order to disseminate information regarding the ramifications of substance abuse to adolescents in the Metro Nashville area.

In order to reach students with a general existing knowledge and awareness of the substances of abuse discussed, but who had, ideally, not been exposed to significant peer pressure regarding drugs, the presentation was given to 7th and 8th grade students. Pre- and post-surveys were given before and after the presentations. The results of the project indicate that, overall, educating adolescents on not only the risks of drug use but also the neurological impact these substances have on the developing brain is a necessary step in curbing the expanding addiction epidemic in the United States. 

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