Course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE) curriculums are a valuable way for undergraduates to conduct real research through their university classrooms, especially in departments that have limited undergraduate research funding. The Thrash lab research generally focuses on isolating new bacteria and characterizing their physiology, ecology, and genomics to understand how these microbes might be interacting with their environment. We used this initial focus to create a curriculum that involves students in the characterization of previously untested, ecologically relevant aquatic free-living bacteria (bacterioplankton) cultures to identify which minimal media, temperatures, and salinities they could grow in. The student then connects their own data back to the isolation environment and existing literature. This curriculum also exposes students to advanced microbiology methods such as flow cytometry for measuring cell concentrations, teaches them to use the programming language R for data plotting, and emphasizes scientific communication through writing, speaking, poster creation/presentation, and social media. We began this curriculum at Louisiana State University and have since implemented it at the University of Southern California totaling a reach of 187 students in three semesters at two different universities with four different graduate teaching assistants. Overall, students performed extremely well, generated reproducible new data for upcoming publications, and were able to get a feel for the ups and downs of research that is difficult to convey in traditional classroom settings. The full study can be found in Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education.