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Current Research Projects

This page focuses on current research initiatives in the Walter Research Group.

If you are more interested in Dr. Walter's classroom innovations OR student success work,

explore using the buttons below.

Research Project
Questing for Relevance: Exploring Student Outcomes from Creative Assessment "Quests" in a General Education Biology Course

Scavenger Hunt Map

Creativity, critical thinking, research, questioning, problem-solving and collaboration skills are critical 21st-century skills (Morrison, 2006; Wai, Lubinski & Benbow, 2010). Contrary to many of these goals, students often perceive STEM as the opposite of creative; seeing STEM as boring, lacking relevance, and full of memorizing facts. This in turn influences students to leave STEM degrees or never select them to begin with (Bok, 2006; Seymour & Hewitt, 1997). It is on these premises that we assert that assessments in STEM courses need to reflect actual real-world tasks and engage students’ interests and skills (e.g. Montgomery, 2002). 

We began this research in a general education biology course in Fall 2020 and have been gathering data ever since. In this unique course, students are assigned to do three quest-style assignments in which they "choose their own adventure" from over 20 creative assignments.

We are using a mixed methods approach to explore what the experience of doing the quest assignments is like for the students. This includes analyzing reflection prompts (N>1000) and interviews (n=11) with undergraduate students. The goal is to uncover how and in what ways the quest assignment elicited their creativity and emotions they experienced as a result of completing the quests.

Undergraduate Student Researchers: Neha Mann and Bernice Mendoza-Alcaraz; Funding: NSF-HSI Supplement $68,489

Research Project
STAR: Science Trust Ambassadors for Resistance and Reconciliation

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In Summer 2022, we will begin new program at Fresno State to train and empower student Science Trust Ambassadors for Resistance and Reconciliation (STARs). The students in the STAR program learn practical immune system and vaccine knowledge as well as skills in building resistance to misinformation. STAR ambassadors then network with local high school students and community health workers to do public outreach in immigrant diaspora communities. 


Our ambassadors already have special skills that many people (including medical doctors and scientists) do not. They speak multiple languages AND are part of the culture in the communities where we plan to do outreach. Our ambassadors will make a difference.


We will be exploring qualitative and quantitative shifts in impact identity and scientific argumentation among STAR ambassadors as part of this study. We expect this work to expand to include studying the connections among the high school students, public health workers, and our STAR Ambassadors as part of an investigation on student success and career pathways in STEM.

Graduate Student Researcher: Arron Ridenour (successfully defended thesis December 2023)

Research Project
Secret Sauce: Southeastern Asian Culture as a lens for Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies in Majors' Biology

Vietnamese cuisine

In this project, we are exploring student identity and scientific knowledge outcomes in majors' biology module focused on fish sauce and fermentation processes as part of Southeastern Asian Culture. This includes ways that the content draws on the knowledge of our students' families, a rich tradition of family and cooking, and the experiences of our region as a hub for agriculture.

We are excited to explore this project as part of greater efforts to break the "model minority" myth for Asian students in STEM and to better connect with Fresno State's Southeastern Asian community.

Graduate Student Researcher: Tony Chontong

Undergraduate Student Researcher: Hannah Gill

Research Project
We Not Plants to “Weed Out”: A Phenomenological Approach to Understanding the First-Year Educational Experiences of STEM Majors in the Post-COVID Era 

Lecture hall seats

The objective of the project is to use a phenomenological approach (Moustakas, 1994) to understand the lived experiences of first year students who are science and mathematics majors. There is extensive research about reasons students leave STEM and the student and school-based factors tied to leaving STEM (Seymour & Hewitt, 1997; 2019; Tinto, 2013). However, we have very little idea about the college landscape that students are experiencing in the post-COVID era. 


We will be doing semi-structured focus group interviews with individuals taking the second semester of a first-year experience courses for STEM majors. We are using Social-Cognitive Career Theory (Brown et al., 2019) and Intersectionality (Christensen et al., 2012) to frame our interview questions.


We hope to establish insight into the influence of the post-COVID context on academic and career selections, thus offering guidance to both universities and individual professors on how to improve support structures for first-year STEM students.

Undergraduate Researchers: Chahat Asi & Rania al Teshi

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