Undergraduate Science Education Grants to Research Universities (2014)

University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

More than half of students who arrive in college intending to complete degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines fail to do so. The most disastrous drop-off in participation occurs early in the college experience while students are taking science and mathematics gateway courses. Countering this trend, early engagement in research has been shown to be a particularly successful approach in retaining students in STEM, especially for underrepresented groups. The University of Michigan pioneered engaging students in research at the very beginning of their college careers and has one of the largest and most successful such programs. Nevertheless, there are not enough placements for all students with initial interest in STEM to have a traditional 'apprenticeship-style' research experience. To increase access to authentic research experiences, universities will need to incorporate its essential elements into the formal curriculum. These elements include contributing to publishable research that moves science forward; using the scientific method of hypothesis generation, testing, interpretation; and participating in an intergenerational research community (faculty, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, undergraduate students), all working toward a common goal.

The University of Michigan will incorporate these elements of authentic research into two of the largest introductory science laboratories, introductory biology and introductory chemistry, that together enroll approximately 3500 students each year. Faculty will design semester-long research projects that build on and add to ongoing research in their laboratory and designate members of their research group as liaisons to the course instructors and students. The liaisons will include both more senior researchers from the group (postdocs or graduate students) and undergraduate students. Over a semester, students will hear presentations on the overall research goals and particular projects by the faculty member, discuss relevant hypotheses and design of appropriate tests of those hypotheses with the faculty member and research group liaisons, learn basic skills to implement those tests, collect and analyze data, and write up their results in science journal paper format. At the end of the semester, student teams will present their results in a symposium that includes the entire research group.

Examples of faculty-led research projects include studies of the human microbiome (e.g., effects of diet on composition and functioning of the gut microbiome), studies of solar energy conversion technology (e.g., comparisons of efficiency of solar cells incorporating different metals) and studies of snow chemistry and climate change (e.g., how salt incursion changes reflective properties of snow and therefore feeds back to climate change).

Assessment will compare performance and persistence in STEM majors for students in sections of each course that incorporate authentic research versus more standard laboratory exercises, as well as to students at similar stages in their education who engage in more traditional independent, apprentice-style research.

For More Information

Deborah Goldberg, Ph.D.
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1318
734/763-1732
degold@umich.edu

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