Rollins

Stephenson Named Co-Principal Investigator on NSF Grant

September 20, 2023

By Laura J. Cole ’04 ’08MLS

Biology professor Paul Stephenson is partnering with the University of St. Thomas to train undergraduate biologists using urban agriculture.

Paul Stephenson
Photo by Scott Cook.

The National Science Foundation awarded nearly $500,000 in a grant aimed at using urban agriculture as an experiential learning experience for undergraduate biology students. Titled Training Undergraduate Biologists through Urban Agriculture (TUBA), the grant was awarded to the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, where biology professor Adam Kay is the principal investigator. Biology professor Paul Stephenson is the lead, or co-principal investigator, at Rollins.

Awarded in 2021, the grant is three years into a four-year program aimed at infusing traditional science education with real-world application of pressing community issues by focusing on urban gardens. At Rollins, Stephenson has partnered with the team at St. Thomas to make a community garden in Cape Town, South Africa, more sustainable. As part of the work, Stephenson has twice traveled to the South Africa, which has a one-of-a-kind botanical area known as the Cape Floristic Region. In 2022, he and Ashley Mathews ’22, a double major in marine biology and environmental studies, worked to launch the nonprofit Chumisa to learn more about verticulture—or using worms to advance composting—and to find sources of funding for the project. Mathews is now working as biology teacher at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School in Massachusetts. This past summer, Stephenson visited the region again, working with community partner Beverly Nakani to survey both the urban garden and vacant lots to see if urban gardens expand species diversity. He plans to publish an article with their findings later this fall.

Back at Rollins, Stephenson has been engaging students in work with an urban garden in the Parramore neighborhood that’s managed by Infinite Zion Farms, a nonprofit urban farmer initiative. This semester, students in his Plant Physiology course will compete to see which group can grow the most food using two of the tower gardens on campus. And as early as next semester, he hopes to have all students in Introduction to Biology and Field Botany participate in an experiential lab project working on two of the beds in the campus’ community garden.


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