A focus on student research experiences

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As community college advocates and other stakeholders prepare for a summit this week focused on exploring how research experiences can serve community college students, a recent survey shows that two-year college students who have had such opportunities generally value them.

Three in four students agreed that doing research confirmed their interest in their field of study, and 65 percent agreed that the experience prepared them for a job. Seventy-four percent reported good or great gain in “comfort in working collaboratively with others” as a result of their research experience.

Nearly 600 students completed the survey, which the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative (CCURI) included in its new report on sustaining and growing research experiences for community college students.

Later this week, the American Association of Community Colleges will host a summit — supported by the National Science Foundation — that will explore how undergraduate research experiences help students succeed in college and prepare them for careers.

Six key elements

In its report — which summarized a strategic planning meeting held this spring — CCURI noted that community colleges with robust research cultures and sustainable research programs have the following elements:

  • Undergraduate research programs align with institutional priorities from the top down.
  • The community college has used a self-study or established a strategic plan that encourages undergraduate research opportunities.
  • Students’ research experiences are embedded in the courses.
  • Faculty participate in CCURI professional development opportunities.
  • Faculty collaborate with CCURI partners on research projects.
  • Faculty engage in activities offered by disciplinary societies, such as the American Society for Microbiology.

Defining research

CCURI broadly defines undergraduate research as inquiries conducted by undergrads that make original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline, according to the report. The group emphasizes giving students opportunities to explore questions using the scientific method without setting publication in peer-reviewed journals as a goal.

CCURI’s model begins with case studies in freshman courses to teach basic scientific concepts within the context of an ongoing research project, the report says.

Of CCURI’s network of 128 community colleges, 89 percent have embedded research experiences in courses. One-third have implemented program-wide research experiences, and 22 percent offer summer research experiences.

Related articles: “Inspirational research” and “Tapping research experiences to improve college success

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.