About the Tiny Earth Network
Tiny Earth inspires students to engage in scientific research while addressing some of the most pressing global challenges of our century: the diminishing supply of effective antibiotics, a rapid decline in soil health, and an underrepresentation of diversity among scientists.
Tiny Earth’s low-cost curriculum immerses students in the thrill of research. It is supported by an instructor training program that has empowered more than 700 instructors to teach it at diverse institutions, ranging from two-year colleges to research universities. Our long-term vision is for every first-year college student to take a research course such as Tiny Earth. Research courses lead to positive outcomes similar to those of individual student research projects, with the added benefit of being scalable and therefore able to provide research opportunities to dozens or hundreds of students simultaneously.
From Microbes to Molecules to a global community
Tiny Earth as we know it was launched in June of 2018, but it truly began six years earlier when Jo Handelsman founded a course—then called “Microbes to Molecules”—at Yale University with the goal of addressing both the antibiotic crisis and the shortage of science trainees. In short order, the course grew and became a part of a larger initiative until Handelsman returned to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and launched Tiny Earth in collaboration with its hundreds of partners worldwide.
From Diversity to AJEDI
Tiny Earth has always had diversity at its core. In response to the social unrest of 2020, and inspired by a list of student demands from Black medical students at Stanford University, the Tiny Earth community expanded the traditional DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) framework to include antiracism (A) and justice (J).
Incorporating antiracism and justice into the naming of our principles was intended to highlight the role of power dynamics, the historical impacts of privilege, and the legacies of racism in instructional design and learning environments—the elements of education that instructors control. Therefore, we updated the name of our “Diversity” efforts to “AJEDI” (antiracism, justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion).
The AJEDI acronym continues to guide the community of practice through iterative adaptation and adoption of a curriculum that upholds these principles. While Tiny Earth’s early AJEDI materials were created primarily for teaching digitally due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many instructors have adapted them for their face-to-face courses. For more information, check out our upcoming publication in JMBE!
Tiny Earth’s global network has expanded to reach tens of thousands of students enrolled annually in some version of the course. Today, the network spans 30 countries, 47 US states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C. The program is headquartered at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. The institutional support of a cutting-edge institute at a world-class research university provides a robust foundation for the program’s continued expansion.
Tiny Earth is more than just a course: a network of thousands of students and hundreds of instructors share research findings, best practices, and enthusiasm for discovery, including at the community’s annual symposium, local and regional events, and online. The name Tiny Earth reflects the program’s global reach, microscopic subjects, and dynamic community.