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Current Research Projects

This page focuses on current research initiatives in the Walter lab. If you are more interested in my classroom innovations OR student success projects, explore using the buttons below.

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

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Creativity, critical thinking, research, questioning, problem solving and collaboration skills are critical 21st century skills (Morrison, 2006; Wai, Lubinski and 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 did this research in a unique context: a live, synchronous virtual biology course in Spring 2021. Students were assigned to do three quest-style assignments in which they chose their own adventure from over 20 creative assignments.

We used a mixed methods approach to explore what the experience of doing the quest assignments like for the students. This includes surveys (N=85) and interviews (n=11) with undergraduate students in the unique general education biology course 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: Ready for Student Researchers!

Funding: NSF-HSI Supplement $68,489

Research Project
Investigating the Impact of Values Affirmations on the Achievement Gap for Historically Marginalized Students in STEM

Image by Lina Trochez

In this intervention-based study, we posit that student success comes from supporting students’ social and emotional well-being (at least in part).


Participating students do an easy-to-implement writing task called “values affirmation” (Cohen et al., 2006, 2009; Sherman et al., 2013; Walton et al., 2014). Values affirmation tasks ask students to write about their personal values and why they are important to them. This activity has been shown support all students, but especially those who are most likely to experience a negative classroom climate, that is, individuals who are negatively stereotyped in academic settings. 

Undergraduate Researchers: Orlando Lopez, Glen Martin, and Noel Fernandez; Graduate Researcher: Micah Johnson

Funding: Fresno State Student Success Grant, $10000

Research Project
Science Denial and the COVID-19 Vaccine: A Study of Scientific Argumentation Skills, Evidence-Laden Narrative, and Debunking Misinformation


In this study, we are using participant interviews and individual surveys with undergraduate general education biology students to understand how lessons focused on building resistance against misinformation AND evidence-laden narratives (stories of people overcoming their science denial) can improve (1) students' scientific argumentation skills and (2) personal beliefs and decisions about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Graduate Student Researcher: Emma Guerrero; 

Funding: Fresno State RSCA Award, Summer 2022, $5000

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
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; 

Funding: NSF-IUSE (in preparation)

Research Project
Exploring Faculty Teaching Practices, Technology Knowledge, Attitudes, and Mental Well-Being during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Image by Emily Underworld

In early 2020, the road to improving student success through active learning became additionally complex. The world was thrown into crisis with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Most higher education classrooms shifted to online learning, disrupting intended teaching practices.


This unique context, in tandem with the importance of using active learning to ensure student success, led our research team to explore how postsecondary teaching practices for 224 instructors changed during the coronavirus pandemic, including how teaching practices were impacted by attitudes about teaching, knowledge of using internet-based technologies for teaching, and faculty mental well-being.

Undergraduate Student Researchers: Makayla Bailey, Arashnoor Gill, and Patricia Fernandez

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