The start of something bigger

Paula Kirya (center), a bioengineering student at Pasadena City College in California, joins a roundtable discussion at the Community College Undergraduate Research Experience Summit in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Madeline Patton)

The Community College Undergraduate Research Experience Summit may have ended Friday, but many of its participants hope it’s the beginning of a new movement that results in more two-year college students having research experiences.

“I think we would probably all agree that what you don’t want to happen is for this discussion to stop with this meeting,” said John Mateja, president of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship in Excellence in Education Foundation.

The 130 thought leaders at the summit made suggestions for informing students, faculty, administrators and other stakeholders about the value of undergraduate research experiences (UREs) for community college students.

Related article: Diving in student research experiences

During the closing session on Friday, summit participants voted on the points they would like included in the report of the summit proceedings. Attendees also had suggestions for how to use the report — which the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) will publish — to guide more two-year college students into research experiences.

AACC convened the three-day summit in Washington, D.C., with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Participants included seven community college alumni who participated in a variety of research experiences.

The broad array of UREs

UREs, as defined by summit organizers, are activities that use the scientific method and/or the engineering design process to promote student learning by investigating a problem where the solution is unknown to students or faculty. They include academic competitions such as the Community College Innovation Challenge that AACC will offer again with NSF support in 2020, cybersecurity hackathons, industry internships, course-embedded research projects and faculty-mentored studies.

“Undergraduate research experiences build workforce skills[like] critical thinking, troubleshooting, working in teams, collaboration,” V. Celeste Carter, lead program director of NSF’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program, said during the summit’s closing plenary.

Carter encouraged two-year college educators to incorporate into ATE grant proposals their novel research ideas for improving technical workforce skills.

“Think about how undergraduate research experiences build confidence and the skills that students need to craft a resume that industry is really going to look at,” she said, noting ATE funding increased to $75 million in the new fiscal year.

Formulating a plan

Small group discussions at the summit were structured to gather information from the student researchers, community college faculty leaders of UREs, administrators at two-year colleges with robust UREs, university educators who lead UREs and representatives of non-profits and government agencies. Their responses to various questions were collated and then voted on during the final plenary to help guide future efforts.

For instance, summit participants identified inclusion of UREs in the colleges’ missions or strategic plans, clear information about how UREs fit within degree and certificate programs, and incentives to participate in research experiences as critical elements for UREs to be scaled across campuses.

To ensure students have equitable access to the benefits of UREs, summit participants suggested introducing basic research skills in projects woven into introductory, general education courses.

While the summit participants would like more colleges to use UREs on a massive scale, none of them expect these institutional transitions to happen overnight. Videos shared during the summit, however, provide evidence that student research projects are part of the rich learning experiences at a growing number of two-year colleges. Below are the videos shared at the conference.

About the Author

Madeline Patton
is an education writer based in Ohio.