GEM Class of 2018 at the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies (photo: Shannon McFadden).

Global Environmental Microbiology (GEM) Summer Course

The Global Environmental Microbiology (GEM) summer program was one of C-DEBI’s flagship undergraduate education programs that engaged STEM and non-STEM majors early in their academic careers in a field-based and hands-on research experience. The target candidates were early career undergraduates enrolled at a 2- or 4-year institution who were contemplating a career in science, but had little or no exposure to scientific research or science as a career. Often these students were the first generation in their families to go to college and/or from marginalized groups, which aligned with our Center goal to train a new, diverse generation of researchers in STEM fields, specifically in microbiology and ocean sciences.  For details of the program that was run 2011-2021, see our inclusive summary including format (in-person and virtual), program success, and the nuts and bolts for running the program.

You are mainly microbe – much like Earth’s biodiversity. Microbes are everywhere (in our guts, in the deep seafloor, and everywhere in between) and we are still learning about who they are, what they do, and how they do it.

The Global Environmental Microbiology (GEM) course was an introductory, aquatic microbiology course for early career undergraduates who are contemplating a career in scientific research.  The course was taught by Drs. John Heidelberg and Eric Webb of the University of Southern California.

Global Environmental Microbiology (GEM) – In-Person

The in-person course combined classroom learning with hands-on activities. Students attended lectures and discussions about aquatic microbiology, learned to use laboratory equipment and how to collect samples from the environment, practiced their presentation skills, collaborated with fellow classmates, and talked to graduate students and professionals in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields to explore career options.

Students spent the first few days of the course at the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles, California and the remaining time at the Wrigley Marine Science Center on Santa Catalina Island. Although activities were scheduled every day of the three-week program, the course schedule included opportunities to hike, swim, snorkel, kayak, play volleyball, etc.

Course expenses, travel, room, and board were paid for by C-DEBI, funded by the National Science Foundation.

Summer OnLine Interactive/Discussion Global Environmental Microbiology (SOLID-GEM) – Online, Partly Synchronous

The online course included some parts of the in-person GEM program, but we were not able to work on lab bench or fieldwork skills. This version of the course included lectures and discussions about aquatic microbiology, oceanography, and molecular biology as well as computer-based labs to help develop skills working with data. We hosted a variety of researchers to talk about their own lab- and fieldwork. Students were able to practice creating and giving individual and group science presentations in a supportive setting. Another important part of the course was helping participants meet and talk to graduate students and professionals in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields to explore career options.

There were about 3 hours of live, synchronous sessions through Zoom each weekday with some work to do on your own each day and over the weekends. There was no cost to participants.

For Both Versions of the Course

C-DEBI sought to recruit participants that reflect the diversity of students at the community college and university level with varied science-learning and life experiences. We encouraged students from groups underrepresented in STEM fields as well as first generation college students to apply. We are committed to improving access and support for members of underrepresented and marginalized groups to be able to succeed in STEM fields.

Ideal candidates were:

  • Interested in a science (or STEM field) career
  • Scientifically curious and willing to explore scientific research
  • Open to new experiences
  • Dedicated learners
  • Able to commit to attending the entire three-week course (including weekends)
  • U.S. citizens or permanent residents
  • Enrolled in college as early career undergraduates (ideally first or second year students)
  • Had completed at least one semester/quarter-long science course at a 2- or 4-year college/university (i.e. biology, chemistry, physics, geology, etc.)
  • At least 18 years of age before the first day of the course

Applications required an online application form, an unofficial transcript, and one letter of recommendation (preferably from a professor or instructor) emailed directly to the Program Coordinator.

Meet our GEM participants:
2017 GEM Course All-Stars
2018 GEM Course All-Stars
2019 GEM Course All-Stars
2020 SOLID-GEM Course All-Stars