RCN-UBE Incubator - Undergraduate Learning Environments in Biology

Project: Research project

Project Details


Student anxiety is a critical concern among institutions of higher education. In biology, 50% of undergraduates report struggling with anxiety. This anxiety can negatively impact student performance and persistence. The increased use of active learning in college biology classrooms presents additional challenges for student anxiety compared to traditional lecture settings. Yet research on student anxiety in
undergraduate biology so far has only focused on identifying the challenges and not potential interventions. One would argue that the pressing nature of this issue warrants the need for a collaborative effort with diverse experts in anxiety to stimulate a research agenda focused on identifying sources of anxiety and anxiety interventions that can be scaled. This RCN-UBE Incubator (U-ABLE) will bring an interdisciplinary group of anxiety experts together to identify existing knowledge about anxiety in college biology active learning classrooms to increase inclusivity toward students with anxiety. The specific goal of this incubator is to establish a new network, including biology education researchers, psychiatrists, psychologists, and student services professionals,
to use their distinct expertise to address student anxiety in undergraduate biology classrooms. The primary activity will be to organize an in-person meeting to discuss known challenges for student anxiety in active learning college biology courses, current best practices for lessening anxiety, what might be
novel sources of student anxiety, and possible large-scale, sustainable interventions. This incubator meeting will establish a collaborative team to develop into a full-scale RCN-UBE and spark the initiation of a new interdisciplinary community dedicated to improving the experiences of undergraduate students
by lessening anxiety levels in active learning classrooms.
The U-ABLE PI Team and Steering Committee will provide diverse perspectives on the impact of anxiety on undergraduates experience in biology learning environments:
PI Katelyn Cooper Ph.D., University of Central Florida; Discipline-based education researcher who conducts research on student anxiety in undergraduate biology classrooms qualitatively
Co-PI Randolph Nesse M.D., Arizona State University; Academic psychiatrist who has over 40 years of
experience specializing in anxiety disorders
Co-PI Elisabeth Schussler Ph.D., University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Discipline-based education
researcher who conducts research on student anxiety in undergraduate biology classrooms quantitatively
Co-PI Sara Brownell Ph.D., Arizona State University; Discipline-based education researcher who
conducts research on student anxiety in undergraduate biology classrooms qualitatively
Jessica Schleider, Ph.D., Stony Brook University; Clinical psychology associate professor whose
research focuses on developing brief scalable inventions for anxiety
Cynthia Stonnington, M.D., Mayo Clinic; Associate professor of psychiatry who is the faculty chair of
the Student Life and Wellness Committee at the Mayo Clinic Arizona
Nikki Nieset, Ph.D., Chandler Gilbert Community College; Counseling psychologist and faculty member who specializes in helping community college students reduce stress and anxiety
Intellectual Merit:
U-ABLE will develop a new network to foster national dialogue to identify sources of anxiety and interventions for lessening anxiety in active learning classrooms. The U-ABLE Steering Committee and network will employ their diverse research and practitioner experiences to compile information about: 1)
current needs and challenges for student anxiety in the biology active learning classroom, 2) best
practices for lessening anxiety from psychiatric, psychological, and counseling perspectives, and 3)
possible routes for scalable interventions to reduce student anxiety.
Broader Impacts:
The U-ABLE Steering Committee and PI will promote the network and its findings through the initial network and by disseminating the findings of the project via a meeting report and conference presentations. By the end of the Incubator funding, the Steering Committee and network is anticipated to double in size and broaden in its diversity of institutional and professional experiences, and a database of potential network participants will be completed. The hope is that even the initial findings of this group
would have a broad impact on the experiences of students in undergraduate biology classrooms.
Effective start/end date12/15/202/28/22


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $74,319.00


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