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Program Assessment

Students in the General Chemistry Lab get ready for a group photo.

We use surveys and focus groups to understand more about what student learning is like in our Transforming Learning Program (TLP) courses. We use this information to:

  1. find out more about what learning is like at UMBS and in the TLP specifically; 
  2. contribute to the literature about field-based education and 
  3. make changes that help improve our courses and programs.

Students in the TLP are asked to fill out several surveys, with the goal of understanding student learning is like in these courses at UMBS. We also examine demographic characteristics (e.g., major, academic year) of students who participate in TLP.

TLP Student Profile

We found that students who participate in TLP come from many different majors, including:

  • Art and Design
  • German
  • Public Policy
  • Biophysics
  • International Studies
  • Economics
  • Political Science
  • Aerospace engineering
  • Civil Engineering
  • Data Science
  • Statistics
  • Computer Science
  • Sociology
  • Neuroscience
  • Biochemistry
  • Environment

More students in TLP are in their first and second year of their university experience compared to our traditional spring and summer term students (40% of TLP students in 2018 were in their first or second year, compared to 14% of traditional spring/summer term students).

The demographic characteristics of the students in TLP are similar to those at the university as a whole in terms of race/ethnicity. Of the students who took our annual TLP survey, 23.2% of students identified as first-generation, a larger percentage than the university as a whole (14%).

Skills Gained

As part of the Transforming Learning Program, we conduct focus groups, asking students about their experiences in their courses and at UMBS about what they perceive they are getting out of the experience.
Students shared that they gained skills in:

  • Research 
  • Field work 
  • Statistics
  • Networking
  • Time management
  • Presentation
  • Team Work
  • Respect for Nature
  • Career Plans



We use this assessment information to continue to make improvements each year to our courses and programs. Some changes made in 2019 based on student feedback from previous years include:

  • Adding statistics workshops
  • Weekly self-care Sunday activities
  • Longer hours in the dining hall
  • Faculty led activities open for all students


In addition to sharing our assessment findings with the U M community, we have presented our assessment work at the Ecological Society of America conference. We are also working with U-FERN, the Undergraduate Field Experiences Research Network to understand more about the educational impact of field experiences.

Shaulskiy, S.L., Farmer, A., Slavik, K., & Nadelhoffer, K. (2019, August). Examining student engagement and scientific understanding in Transforming Learning Program (TLP) courses at the University of Michigan Biological Station. Contributed talk presented at Ecological Society of America, Louisville, KY.

Saadeh, J. & Shaulskiy, S. (2019, May 16th). Using assessment data to create a more inclusive community at UM Biological Station. Annual Student Life Research Symposium, Ann Arbor, MI.

Shaulskiy, S.L. & Farmer, A. (2019). UFERN webinar series: Transforming learning at the University of Michigan Biological Station: Bridging the gap between environmental science and other disciplines addressing today’s complex environmental and public health challenges [Video webinar]. Retrieved from

Bastien, E., Farmer, A., Halperin, S. & Shaulskiy, S.L. (2018, May). We’ve become like a family now: Building community at the Biological Station and beyond. Presentation at the LSA Advising Conference, Ann Arbor, MI.


All TLP students do work internal to the class. Some also create products that reach beyond the duration or physical loction of the class. These include:

  • Student-built and sustainably-sourced straw bale construction building at UMBS
  • Accordion books in the Florilegium class
  • Grants from the University of Michigan library for two groups of Microbes in the Wild students to develop materials to present their data to the public
  • A research article published in UM Undergraduate Research Journal (Winter 2018, pp. 40-45), authored by students in the UMBS General Chemistry Lab course
  • A Microbes in the Wild class project group getting a National Park Service contract to study avian botulism at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
  • Solar energy feasibility assessment of UMBS for a Clean Wolverines student group project after a member took a TLP class
  • A student from the Field Remote Sensing class deciding to conducting her thesis work at UMBS
  • Three former TLP students returning to UMBS in subsequent years as Instructional Aides for UMBS courses