Cochise College students benefit from undergraduate research

In the spring 2018 semester, eight Cochise College students* participated in an undergraduate research class, BIO 192, at Kino Bay Center for Cultural and Ecological Studies in Sonora, Mexico. Available for comment on the projects at Kino Bay were students Abbey Bowser, Ernesto Ramirez, and Hector Vega.

“Abbey, Ernesto, and Hector received hands-on experience to jump-start their careers as researchers,” said Frank Emanuele, Biology Instructor, and Research Club Advisor. “They learned to balance collaborating as a team and to work individually.” Abbey Bowser, who participated in the eelgrass project, said that what she enjoyed the most was interacting with the local community in addition to collecting and processing samples. “The eelgrass is a perennial and is important to the environment at the Kino Bay area. Even though the on-site class has ended, we were able to bring samples back to the college to continue our research,” stated Bowser. 

Ernesto Ramirez, who is majoring in biology and wishes to study marine science, stated, “The experience was amazing. The undergraduate research program offers students an opportunity to learn science in a non-traditional setting.” Ramirez said that he reveled studying in the marine environment. He worked on the sea turtle eggs conservation project and learned to integrate GPS and other technology during the research. Additionally, Ramirez learned cultural knowledge about the animals and the people in the area from the Comcaac (the indigenous peoples of the Kino Bay area).  Hector Vega, a second-year student majoring in chemistry, learned what life as a field scientist is like, which will help him decide if a career in research is in his future.  He said, “Along with our faculty mentor, I was able to design my research project and decide what questions and topics I wanted to focus on.” Vega stated the most exciting part of his experience was learning about the diverse species found in the Kino Bay area. “This experience gave me a whole new appreciation of our environment,” added Vega.

Faculty advisor Emanuele commented, “Hands-on research within science is engaging and thought-stimulating. We hope students will establish a personal connection to the work while learning research techniques and problem-solving skills. We plan to analyze the eelgrass samples collected using DNA sequencing.”  Why eelgrass? Eelgrass is important culturally to the Comcaac for a variety of reasons, one being that it is sea turtle food.  Sea turtles play a vital role in Comcaac culture.  With this research, Emanuele and the students hope to determine how the Kino Bay eelgrass fits into the various genetic tree of all the global seagrass/eelgrass species. Emanuele further explained, “Eventually, we hope our findings will allow a better understanding of eelgrass evolution on the molecular scale and how the warming oceans affect molecular adaptations.”

Other opportunities for participating in undergraduate research include the Undergraduate Research Student Club. The Faculty advisors are Ms. Kari Durham and Mr. Frank Emanuele.  During the 2017-2018 academic year, club members presented posters about their research at conferences in Austin, Texas and Las Vegas, Nevada.  Research projects last year studied bacterial diversity in local ecosystems, tracking wildlife migration in the border area using fixed wildlife cameras, and eelgrass studies at the Kino Bay Center for Cultural and Ecological Studies. 

Finally, Emanuele stated, “I would like to see the use of hands-on research expand into science classrooms to reach more students. Currently, I am incorporating research into courses I teach.  One of my long-term goals as Science Department Chair is to see this project expand to include many of the science classes.  Ms. Durham and other science faculty are working in this direction, too.”

If you are a Cochise College student or know a Cochise student that might be interested in being involved with undergraduate research, then please contact Ms. Kari Durham or Mr. Frank Emanuele at (520) 515-5477, or email to

*List of students who participated in the Spring 2018 BIO 192 class are Hector Vega, Ernesto Ramirez, Paulette Iniguez, Lauren Loreto, Mark Buono, Nicholas Massoni, Maria Diaz, and Abbey Bowser, Undergraduate Research Student Club President.

Cochise College Students standing in front of Kino sign