Stonehill Biology Professor Bronwyn Heather Bleakley has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Grant worth $899,000. The grant will allow Bleakley to expand her research on proximate and evolutionary causes of social behaviors while giving Stonehill students comprehensive research and mentorship experiences. It marks the first NSF CAREER Grant awarded to a faculty member at the College.
Considered one of the most prestigious grants in the country, CAREER grants support young faculty who effectively integrate research and teaching. Bleakley’s CAREER grant will help support six summer research positions per year over the next five years, giving Stonehill students the opportunity to perform significant research. A full-time research technician will also be added to Bleakley’s laboratory.
“To receive a grant of this magnitude and scope from the NSF represents a major endorsement of the quality of scientific research being conducted at the College today. Professor Bleakley is charting exciting territory and, in doing so, she is including her students in the process. Her exceptional skill as a faculty mentor gives our students remarkable and practical opportunities to grow as scientific researchers,” said Provost Joseph Favazza.
Under Bleakley’s guidance, over 30 Stonehill students, many of whom come from under-represented groups, have worked in her laboratory to explore the effects of genetic influences on the behavior of guppy fish.
“Almost nothing is known about how often or to what degree the genes of social partners influence an individual’s behavior, whether those effects vary across populations, nor what physiological mechanisms allow one partner’s genes to influence another partner’s behavior,” explains Bleakley.
Furthermore, the grant will allow Bleakley to use a variety of experimental techniques to better understand how social partners influence each other’s behavior and when such interactions should be important for the evolutionary success of the organism. The grant will give Bleakley and some of her students the opportunity to travel to Trinidad to collect wild guppy fish to use in their study.
Bleakley says she will also expand her work in designing active learning classrooms by writing and distributing an evolution lab manual and active learning resources for other college classes through support of the NSF grant.
Of the 30 plus students who have previously worked with Bleakley, many of whom came to her lab through the Stonehill Undergraduate Research Experience Program or through the Stonehill-Massasoit Science Transfer Initiative (STI), 14 have gone on to complete their senior theses and manuscripts with another ten rising seniors planning to do the same next year. Bleakley has made a commitment to attracting students from diverse and underrepresented populations to STEM fields and mentoring them to achieve undergraduate and post-graduate success.
“Good science takes time. This grant provides the resources for me to give students long-term opportunities to fully complete the steps in science training, from designing and running experiments, working through inevitable set-backs, analyzing real data, thinking critically about the data and writing and presenting the final results,” says Bleakley.