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Freshman Research Initiative
The Freshman Research Initiative (FRI), developed by the University of Texas at Austin, is a new model in undergraduate education that offers first-year students the opportunity to engage in authentic research experiences in chemistry, biochemistry, nanotechnology, molecular biology, physics, astronomy, and computer sciences while being mentored by faculty and graduate students. The FRI revolves around the "Research Stream," a fully functional research laboratory in which students do cutting-edge, publishable research supplemented by weekly lectures organized around the work being done in the lab. The three-semester program includes a first-semester Research Methods course and participation in a specific research stream for two semesters, with an optional summer component. A faculty member whose research program reflects the university’s educational approach leads each stream, while a research educator, who is a Ph.D. research scientist dedicated to each research stream, runs each lab. The project’s website contains a listing of and links to each research stream. Because each research stream includes core concepts for freshman science labs, the exercises, training modules, and videos produced by each stream might be of use to other educators; many of these resources are directly available from the website or can be obtained from the research educators. Because the stream labs exist year-round, the project can accommodate visiting undergraduates, high school students, teachers, and visiting faculty interested in mini-projects or training, especially during the summer. Developers say that their approach to undergraduate education could serve as a model for other colleges and universities.
Program Director: Sarah Louise Simmons, Ph.D.
Award Years: 2006
Summary: The University of Texas at Austin is a public research university in Austin, Texas. Its HHMI-funded initiatives include:
- The development of a research-based curriculum, the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI), that offers large numbers of first-year students the opportunity to initiate and engage in authentic research experiences in chemistry, biochemistry, nanotechnology, molecular biology and computer sciences while being supported and mentored by faculty and graduate students. The program spans three semesters of integrated coursework and laboratory research in newly renovated, dedicated research labs;
- Research modules, designed for the FRI, that are being adopted in several large biology and chemistry courses. In addition, the FRI’s Research Methods course was approved as a “Signature Course” required for all incoming freshmen. That course has also initiated the development of Research Methods courses in the humanities and social sciences and mathematics/physical sciences; and
- Opportunities for capstone experiences in research laboratories at the university, abroad, or in industrial settings. The FRI also offers students opportunities to become peer mentors, undergraduate teaching assistants, and ambassadors who visit their former high schools to describe the value of the program.