Though bridge programs focus on student development and assistance, the University of Miami and Occidental College offer something for community college faculty as well.
Miami hosts one faculty member each semester in a research lab to keep the hands-on and inquiry aspects of science fresh. Occidental, a private four-year college in Los Angeles, has taken this idea a step further and recently made research by community college faculty a top priority.
“There is good evidence in the literature that says if faculty stay active scholars, they are more effective teachers than those who rely on what they learned ‘X' number of years ago,” says Chris Craney, head of Occidental's bridge program.
Chemistry professor Dennis Mitchell from Los Angeles City College says it worked for him. Last year, he became the first of two community college faculty members to receive support from Occidental's HHMI grant. Becoming a teacher, he says, didn't mean he was done learning.
“I talked to Chris and came up with my own project,” says Mitchell, who studied the use of porphyrins for solar energy storage. “The amount of insight you get [from research] is incredible. Chemistry is more than just what's in the book.”
This summer, Asmik Oganesyan, a chemistry instructor at Glendale Community College, became the second teacher to take advantage of the experience offered by Occidental's program. Her students are seeing the benefits.
“I have been told by students that my enthusiasm for research is highly contagious,” Oganesyan says, “and the students are always very interested in updates on the progress of the project.”
The Occidental bridge program is aiming for a sustainable model of teachers in research. When students with research experience leave community college, Craney explains, they take their knowledge with them. But if faculty get involved in the lab, the expertise and passion stay at the community college.
“The more teachers can bring the idea of inquiry and examination into the classroom,” says Craney, “the more successful they'll be.”