Meet the Researcher - Ryleigh Fleming

Breakout Room: 9

RyleighFleming_HeadshotResearcher Name: Ryleigh Fleming
Title of Research: Breaking the barriers of a traditional in-person service learning in a pandemic with E service-learning: Impacts of a COVID-19 Module in a non-STEM majors biology course
Division Representing: Education
Institution: University of Alabama at Birmingham
Institution Location: Alabama
Home State: Tennessee
District Number: 7
Advisor/Mentor: Samiksha Raut
Funding Source: N/A

Research Experience:  
Last summer 2020, I got selected for the competitive, Discipline-Based Education Research (DBER) Undergraduate Research Experience at Rochester Institute of Technology, NY. As a part of this experience, I got to work under the supervision of Dr. Kelly Martin on Integrating communication and teamwork into physics higher education”. Since completing this summer experience, I have been working as a research assistant with Dr. Sami Raut in the department of biology on various DBER projects to date. Besides, I have served as a Biology Learning Assistant (BLA) for an introductory biology class and I was awarded the Outstanding BLA award. This position included teaching a group of undergraduate students by applying pedagogical and content knowledge that I gained through my training. Recently, I got selected as one among the only 20 students selected nationally for the Clinton Global Initiative University COVID-19 Student Action Fund Commitment project. As a part of this selection, I developed Project Equity for Birmingham” that aims to raise awareness for homeless people in the Birmingham area about COVID in association with local non-profit organizations. For this work, I recently received an award from the Summit on Homelessness & Poverty Disruption Community Fund”. This award focuses on addressing the lack of access to homeless people as per CDC guidelines. Finally, I have passionately volunteered with many local non-profit organizations such as the Ronald McDonald House of Charities of Alabama, Habitat for Humanity, Angel's Hope and community kitchen and local hospital in Chattanooga. 

Presentation Experience: 
As a part of my DBER experience(2020), I gave a presentation entitled Communication, socialization, organizational culture and diversity in the STEM workforce : A replication study with POWER data”. I recently presented a virtual poster on my COVID-19 research project in a non-major's biology class at the Tennessee Science, Engineering, Math (STEM) Education Research Conference( January 2020). I have my conference abstracts accepted for the following conferences this coming spring 2021 at the following conferences : National Conference on Undergraduate Research (e-poster), University Research Symposium, University of West Alabama(e- poster), The Alabama Academy of Science, virtual poster presentation and an oral presentation at the UAB exposition of undergraduate research, UAB. As a freshman college student, I received 'Academic Small Business Alliance Internship' which gave me an opportunity to engage elementary school children in STEM activities. As an enrolled student in the UAB Teach program, I got various opportunities to teach science lessons and engage middle school students in many other hands-on STEM activities.  

Significance of Research:       
Educators need to create an informed scientifically aware citizenry especially in the COVID-19 pandemic where public health measures focus on increasing adoption of safe behaviors for reducing the transmission of COVID-19. Non-STEM majors reflect an important, yet understudied, part of our public given the fact that they constitute tomorrow's voters, workers, consumer, and policy makers. Expecting that non-STEM majors may benefit from a module connecting COVID-19 to community education, we implemented a novel E-service-learning module in the light of the transition of an in-person course to an online platform. Our four-week module, included expert-led lectures, assigned digital infographics about COVID-19 safety precautions, and required post-reflection assignment summarizing their learning gains. Out of 112 enrolled students, 87 consented to have their reflections analyzed and 8 students chose to participate in additional one-on-one online interviews. To determine which parts of our module garnered the most student commentary, we categorized post-reflection and interview data into four categories: service-learning infographic, service-learning guest lectures, information on COVID-19, and the broader implications of COVID-19. While 13% of students explicitly referenced infographics in their reflections, a far greater proportion (37%) explicitly referenced learning gains related to the expert-led lectures. Based upon these findings, we recommend utilization of this novel E-service-learning strategy in the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Above all, this online community engagement tool can be easily applied across many more non-STEM disciplines to give rise to a well-informed citizenry and most importantly to envision science as being personally relevant among this population of the students.   

Uniqueness of Research: 
This research is unique as we adapted an in-person service-learning module into an E-service learning format. Despite the hurdle posed by the pandemic, community engagement was accomplished by making use of social media platforms to disseminate the student generated infographic posters to raise awareness about safe health behaviors for reducing the transmission of COVID-19 in the deep south communities.