A plant’s growth, reproduction, or survival may be greatly influenced by changes in its functional traits. Understanding variation in plant functional traits within and across species will improve modelling of ecological processes. We investigated plant functional traits associated with drought tolerance across a range of precipitation sites in Texas in grass species little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium). As students, we independently conducted research activities using several laboratory technologies including research-grade microscopes, image analysis software, and statistical programming language. Engaging in authentic research provided us the opportunity to experience actual scientific research, which includes problem solving, team work, and effective communication. We also had the chance to learn transferable technological laboratory skills that could be used later on. These research experiences enhanced our engagement and motivation to pursue scientific careers.