HomeResearchCreating REAL (Research Experiences in Authentic Laboratories) Science

Our Scientists

Creating REAL (Research Experiences in Authentic Laboratories) Science

Research Summary

This initiative will transform the way we recruit, educate, and retain undergraduate students in chemistry, biochemistry, and biomolecular sciences, by providing Research Experiences in Authentic Laboratories (REAL) for entering freshman, community college, and high school students.

We plan to tackle three initiatives aimed at transforming the way we recruit, educate, and retain undergraduate students in chemistry, biochemistry, and biomolecular sciences. The overarching theme involves providing Research Experiences in Authentic Laboratories (REAL) for entering freshman at the University of Michigan (Aim 1), students enrolled in chemistry courses at Washtenaw Community College (Aim 2), and high school students across the nation (Aim 3).

Aim 1: Transforming the Introductory Organic Chemistry Laboratory

Students often cite uninspiring introductory courses as a reason for leaving the STEM fields. At the University of Michigan (UM), we teach an introductory organic chemistry lab to approximately 2000 freshman per academic year. We therefore have an extraordinary opportunity to nurture and/or transform how these students view science. Teaching organic chemistry to first semester freshman – a tradition at Michigan since 1989 – has led to an exceptional challenge: Most students enrolled in the corresponding introductory laboratory course have no prior lab experience. As a consequence, the course has slowly devolved into teaching the basic concepts with simple experiments. We seek to completely overhaul this course into an exciting, research-driven, active-learning adventure for undergraduate students.

Aim 2: Partnering with a local Community College to Increase the Diverse Pool of STEM Majors at UM

Almost half of all undergraduate students are enrolled at community colleges across the nation due to the rising cost of tuition coupled with the tough economic times. Many of these students will transfer to four-year institutions and complete a BS or BA degree. We aim to increase the pool of diverse, talented students pursuing a chemistry-related degree at UM by establishing a strong research-based partnership with Washtenaw Community College faculty and students. Because the community college student population tends to be more diverse, reaching out to these students can serve the dual purpose of increasing the overall number of STEM majors, as well as those from traditionally underrepresented populations.

Aim 3: Summer Program in Polymer Science for High School Students

Early engagement in research is often cited as a key factor in retaining students in the STEM disciplines. As professors, we focus on freshman. Reaching out to middle and high school students is much more challenging. We aim to develop a two-week-long short course relating concepts in polymer science to real-world applications for high school students across the nation. The course will include a significant research component, with active, hands-on learning.

Training Future STEM Educators

The Chemistry Department at the University of Michigan provides a uniquely strong environment to accomplish our educational initiatives because of our Future Faculty Program (FFP). This group includes undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars who are interested in pursuing an academic career. Partnering with these motivated students on instructional development projects is part of our culture. Our Associate Chair for Educational Development & Practice runs the program, and coordinates the additional training, including teaching seminars and workshops. In addition, our School of Education offers a research-based MS Degree in Postsecondary Science Education for those who want to add the degree to their training. Although the scope of the proposed initiatives is too large for the FFP alone, we can still leverage this unique program by selecting these students to be collaborators in these endeavors.

As of January 2015

Scientist Profile

Anne J McNeil
HHMI Professor
University of Michigan
Physical Science

Related Links