Skip to main content
Indianapolis Skyline and White River
Center for Urban Ecology and Sustainability

The CUE Farm as a Hub of Learning

Using the CUE Farm to Cultivate Scientific Literacy, Civic Action, and Sustainable Agriculture Knowledge

In 2016, Butler University’s Center for Urban Ecology (CUE) and the STEM Education Innovation and Research Institute (SEIRI) at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) received nearly $300,000 from the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education program at the National Science Foundation to develop, implement, and assess a cohesive program of place-based experiential research modules centered on the theme of sustainable agriculture in four Butler undergraduate courses.

Each course will first introduce and compare environmental, social, and individual aspects of the global/industrial and local/sustainable food system to give students a context to their research. After this introductory material, students will then proceed to conduct real-world research on the CUE Farm and at other urban farms. Each semester, research findings from each class will be presented to the Indianapolis community, and data provided to urban farmers in Indianapolis. Throughout this 3-year pilot project, SEIRI will assess impacts of the modules to 1) student course engagement, content knowledge, critical thinking, place attachment, and civic mindedness, 2) faculty teaching and research, and 3) interdisciplinary collaboration across Butler’s campus.

The Classes

The program will be piloted in the following four undergraduate courses:

  • ENV200 Introduction to Environmental Studies, Professor Jesse van Gerven
  • BI230 Ecology and Evolutionary Biology–Fundamentals, Professor Travis Ryan
  • BI408 Ecosystem Ecology, Professor Sean Berthrong
  • CH465 Environmental Chemistry, Professor Elizabeth Davis

Data management and statistical analysis in courses will be supported through complementary curriculum developed by Professor Rasitha Jayasekare.

After the 3-year pilot, our goal is to test this approach in non-STEM courses such as business, communications, statistics, the arts, or education, as well as at other institutions.

The Curriculum

This unique curriculum is founded in place-based, experiential (PBE) learning theory where hands-on learning through research is underpinned with the specific geography, ecology, sociology, and politics of a place. PBE strives to connect ‘place’ with the self and community to help students develop stronger ties to their community, enhance their appreciation for the natural world, and create a heightened commitment to serve as critically engaged citizens. PBE is recognized as an effective pedagogy to enhance student content knowledge, course engagement, critical thinking skills, and civic mindedness, particularly when situated within a place to which students attach meaning, such as school gardens or campus farms.

Introductory Lessons on Global/Industrial and Local/Sustainable Food Systems

To ensure consistency, each course module contains three parts: a farm sensory reflection, a personal food exploration, and an activity introducing social and ecological aspects of food systems. Faculty can choose from a selection of pre-developed introductory activities (1–4) below or create their own.

Research Curriculum

Details coming soon…

The Team

Principal Investigators:

Professor Julia Angstmann, Center for Urban Ecology, Butler University

Professor Brandon Sorge, STEM Education and Innovation Research Institute, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI)


Senior Personnel:

Grant Fore, STEM Education and Innovation Research Institute, IUPUI


Farm Manager:

Tim Dorsey, CUE Farm, Butler University


Doctoral Student:

Amber Rollings, STEM Education and Innovation Research Institute, IUPUI


Teaching Faculty Associates:

Professor Sean Berthrong, Department of Biological Sciences, Butler University

Professor Elizabeth Davis, Department of Chemistry, Butler University

Professor Rasitha Jayasekare, Department of Mathematics and Actuarial Science, Butler University

Professor Travis Ryan, Department of Biological Sciences, Butler University

Professor Jesse van Gerven, Interdisciplinary Program in Science Technology and Environmental Studies, Butler University

The Funder

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1609219.

Program: Improving Undergraduate STEM Education, Division of Undergraduate Education, National Science Foundation

Investigators: Professors Julia Angstmann (Butler) and Brandon Sorge (IUPUI)

Details: Award # 1609219, Grant Amount $296,377 Project Dates 9/1/2017–8/31/2019.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.