General Meteorology is sophomore level course taken by 25-30 primarily meteorology majors. The class meets four times each week for fifty minutes. Having no dedicated lab, an average of one meeting per
week was committed to the introduction of an inquiry-based lab. The lab now encompasses the full 16-week semester. Students form research groups of three or four individuals and develop scientific questions or items of interest about meteorological aspects or phenomena. The groups develop a hypothesis based on their research question, outline their research procedure, and list their expected outcome. They then participate in a peer review process, collect and analyze their data, draw conclusions, and present the outcome of their work through oral presentation or poster session at the end of the semester. Students are encouraged to either seek out data available online at professional sites or collect their own data by recording temperature and relative humidity using Maxim Ibutton Thermochrons. Over the three years, approximately 20% of the students groups have chosen to collect their own data.
Following the paradigm used successfully in citizen science initiatives such as Zooniverse, a tool (SWAT) is being developed to allow students within science learning communities to classify thunderstorm system types and then analyze the kinds of severe weather associated with them. This activity will play an important role in the freshmen research initiatives at Iowa State, a key goal of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute project. The activity will initially be tested in a course of roughly 50 geoscience majors and an introductory meteorology course with an enrollment of 200+ students. It will be available for use in other first-year science courses as a means of exposing students to authentic research. The activity will use two prior published studies by Gallus that identified roughly 10 storm types, and examined severe weather reports by type over one warm season in the central United States.
The most important lesson learned is that faculty commitment to creating undergraduate student research experiences, along with initial support to do so, has resulted in far more students having a more authentic science research experience during their undergraduate education and increased retention to STEM majors.