Exploring research experiences at community colleges

Professional development workshops held through the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative at Finger Lakes Community College in New York. (Photo: CCURI)

A new conference this fall funded by the National Science Foundation will take a closer look at undergraduate research experiences at community colleges.

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) will host the conference November 20-22 in the Washington, D.C., area in collaboration with the Council on Undergraduate Research and the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative, an NSF-funded project based at Finger Lakes Community College in New York.

With a growing body of research indicating that research opportunities for community college students improve their success — especially for underrepresented students — NSF wanted to have a meeting that would explore such programs.

“They are seeing a lot of innovation across the country and want to know more and provide a forum to share promising strategies,” said Ellen Hause, academic and student affairs program director at AACC.

Seeking ways to expand

The idea for the conference came from last fall’s Advanced Technological Education conference in Washington, D.C., where NSF held a roundtable on the topic. The discussions piqued the agency’s interest in share promising practices. The meeting will bring together about 150 practitioners from the two- and four-year sectors, business and industry, local governments, nonprofits and students.

“We’re doing this as a think-tank type meeting, where they will strategically go into discussion sessions to provide recommendations about the key challenges and opportunities in the community college landscape,” Hause said.

That will include examining the benefits of implementing these types of experiences at community colleges as well as what needs to happen culturally at a college. Community college faculty will play a key role in the discussions as they are involved in implementing these experiences at their college, Hause said.

A steering committee will select participants.

Developing real-world skills

NSF is looking at research experiences that are broader than a traditional lab- or course-based projects, Hause said. Those include research focused on tackling real-world problems that also translates into employability skills.

For example, Monterey Peninsula College students, through the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center, are developing remotely operated underwater vehicles and using them to conduct research, Hause said. She also cited projects developed by students through the NSF-funded Community College Innovation Challenge (CCIC).

“That competition in itself raised the profile of the caliber of research students are doing,” Hause said.

(NSF and AACC are working to “re-envision” CCIC and hope to bring it back in a new form in 2020. AACC will talk with stakeholders, faculty and students and get feedback on how to structure the competition to garner more applications and affect more students and faculty.)

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.