University Business May 2018 - 22
Democratizing the sciences
California's Central Valley presents student researchers with a microcosm of the
nation's ecological challenges, including
food and energy production, water and air
quality, and environmental sustainability.
To get first- and second-year students
involved in solving these and other problems, California State University, Fresno
is expanding "course-based undergraduate
research experiences," or CUREs, to several
disciplines, says Christopher Meyer, dean
of the College of Science and Mathematics.
With help from an anonymous
$500,000 donation in 2017, faculty in
several sciences bring research projects
into their courses. Meyer calls this approach "democratizing" because it provides for-credit opportunities to students
who might not previously have been selected to participate in extracurricular faculty research.
"In the sciences, there have not always
been enough research experiences for everyone," Meyer says. "We want to broaden
access beyond just the selected or self-selected students."
This research push has resulted in students taking more science courses, as well
as in better retention for freshmen and
sophomores, Meyer says, adding that it's
closing achievement gaps for first-generation and underrepresented students too.
Some enhanced facilities support
this research. A major gift allowed the
NATURAL FIT-The University of West Florida's Office of Undergraduate Research
has increased its efforts to connect students with faculty seeking research
assistants. It also helps instructors embed research in regular courses.
College of Agriculture to build a $30 million research center with open-plan lab
spaces designed for collaboration and interdisciplinary work.
On the other side of the country, undergraduates at the University of Pittsburgh's
Greensburg branch campus participate in
projects for paying clients-such as analyzing community health trends for a local
health care system.
"Undergraduate research is a form of experiential learning," says Sharon P. Smith,
president of the Greensburg campus. "We
see that as something distinct from lectures
and reading-writing assignments."
Modes of discovery
Notable undergraduate research programs and projects
West Florida University's Explorers program lets students shadow faculty researchers in a variety of disciplines.
Fresno State University faculty bring projects into the classroom through
"course-based undergraduate research experiences," or CUREs.
University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg's Green Scholars program pairs top
performers with faculty researchers. At its Center for Digital Text, students help
pioneer the creation of digital archives. At The Center for Applied Research, undergraduates assist with research for paying clients, such as health care systems.
Undergraduate nursing students at Florida International University work on
the SENORITAS project to research safe sex and HIV.
22 | May 2018
Graduate students, when assisting with
research, often fall in line with the faculty
member's way of thinking. Undergraduates, however, can bring a new perspective,
Smith says. "Undergraduates lead faculty
to ask fundamentally new questions they
haven't thought of before."
Not flipping burgers
The Office of Undergraduate Research at
West Florida prioritizes its role of matchmaker in creating relationships between
students and faculty. First- and secondyear students who have no research experience can shadow faculty in labs through
the Explorers program. "Often, faculty
are looking for good students to work
with them and students would love to get
engaged, but they don't know how," says
Her office guides faculty in embedding research into their classes, and it pays
students to assist on projects through a
grant-funded work-study program. These
options for undergraduates give the university a competitive edge in recruiting.
At flagship schools, research is sometimes
restricted to grad students, seniors and top
performers, Schwartz says.
"We're trying to get middle-tier students engaged, which can help them find
potential and excel when they see how the
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