Questions about the Costs of Expanding Undergraduate Research Opportunities
1. School or program characteristics: Name of school and unit under discussion—is program for all students, all STEM majors (specify), or a particular department? Size of student pool?
2. Goals of the expansion: What are institutional goals for students undertaking this research experience? Please check all that apply:
_____ develop a better understanding of the scientific process
_____ improve a range of academic skills
_____ improve hypothesis generation and testing
_____ view oneself as a scientist
_____ produce work of interest beyond the classroom (to the community, scientists, etc.)
_____ contribute to work that will likely become a publication in a scientific journal
What are the goals for the institution? Please check all that apply:
____ increase retention in STEM
____ attract a stronger applicant pool
____ increase diversity in STEM
____ increase student/faculty satisfaction in STEM majors
____ providing such opportunities considered an important institutional characteristic
3. Type(s) of research experience(s) being utilized: Examples: are research opportunities being offered in scheduled courses (CURE); through group efforts during summer/winter break; or using the apprentice-style model, during summer or academic year, or both.
4. Resources available: What in-place resources were available for program expansion? What does the institution have? What is it known for? Examples: office of undergraduate research; research-active faculty willing to take undergraduates into their research groups, and/or develop CURE projects; on-campus undergraduate research symposium; teaching lab space available for summer research use; access to scientific journals; field stations; engagement with community problems; current budget for teaching cook-book lab assignments; budget for lab instructors; etc.
5. What resources needed to be added and/or modified? Over what time line and cost? Examples: new administrative staff to oversee/develop undergraduate research opportunities; new department staff to organize/teach/supervise students; lab space dedicated to undergraduate research; increased support for field station; increased supply budget; addition/expansion of on-campus undergraduate research symposium; conference travel budget for student presentations; expanded number of student stipends, etc. Give costs in general terms (ex. staff described as experienced educator with Ph.D. in X; supply budgets given as approximately X per student, or as a range per student, etc. Point out if needed resources came from re-purposing prior resources).
6. Outcomes to date, if known: Example: as your undergraduate research program has expanded, have you observed any of the following: increases in number of students participating in STEM research; increase in diversity of students participating; a shift in applications; a change in persistence in STEM or in STEM graduation rates, etc.
Excerpts from Responses
Amherst College (MA) excerpts from the response:
We are fortunate to have sufficient endowed funds to support a 10-week summer research experience for all chemistry majors embarking upon a senior thesis…
We need to find ways of freeing up time for faculty to supervise research students. It is impossible to be a responsible or effective research supervisor if one is unable to spend uninterrupted time in the laboratory several days each week. Often it seems like research is an optional luxury.
The greatest limitation for us is faculty time, and thus the greatest cost to pushing beyond our current limits would be to hire more faculty, or at minimum (especially for the STEM fields), more postdocs, postbacs (generally honors students continuing to work in the lab in which they did their honors thesis) or lab technicians in order to enhance the faculty member’s capacity to mentor students.
Anoka Ramsey Community College (ARCC) (in MN) “is trying to infuse undergraduate research for all students in all disciplines” based on plans developed through a Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) workshop. The school currently has about 8,000 students and estimates that 30-40 percent are engaged in some sort of research or scholarly activity, primarily through course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs). Nine of 21 biology courses are providing novel undergraduate research experiences (UREs). ARCC has supported independent research students, often in partnership with other schools; at present student stipends for research work do not exist. Space is being repurposed and remodeled to create an Open Research Lab, which will need to be staffed. Faculty members are getting release credits to work on this program.
Austin College (TX) expanded its apprenticeship program during 2000-2008, and some departments also use research methods, CUREs, or scaffolded curriculum models to support that. A “new strategic plan calls for every student to have two experiential learning experiences while an undergrad,” and the Center for Research, Experiential, Artistic & Transformative Education (CREATE) was set up in 2015. The inaugural director is in the process of bringing all of the current campus programs together. An all-campus Austin College Student Scholarship Conference is held annually.
Chemistry and physics require research for the major; biology has grown from 23 percent participation in 2003 to 56 percent participation in 2015. Financial resources are being sought to expand and stabilize the program with student stipends, faculty stipends, supply money, and student travel awards in response to cited needs.
Central Washington University (WA) has expanded its Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) in the past 2 years from one to two permanent staff positions (director and a support staff position) with funding from the provost. This expansion supports the institutional goal to provide opportunities for student scholarship/scholarly work. The addition of the second staff position frees up the OUR director to work on fund raising, raising campus profile of undergraduate research, etc. UREs are primarily apprentice-style during the academic year and summer. While a small amount of internal funds are available, funding for most projects comes from external faculty research grants, so most opportunities are for advanced students. A few introductory (first-year) and second-year students can get funding through a small fund for minority student research. A soon-to-be-sunseted grant funds approximately five STEM students and faculty for summer research. During the academic year, students receive academic credit and faculty receive teaching credit.
The Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) has expanded the number of CUREs offered through its faculty training program. Two faculty attended a week-long CURE workshop and then ran a Faculty Learning Community to help others include undergraduate research in their courses. Three years ago, one faculty member (geology) included undergraduate research in her courses; this year six faculty members now offer UREs in courses (geology, oceanography, biology, microbiology, finance, psychology). To allow for the expanded efforts, a variety of resources were repurposed: existing lab supplies were used for CUREs as well as an expansion of an established URE symposium that was funded by the honors budget. There were also one-time additional resources to support this effort to include funds to compensate leader and participants in the Faculty Learning Community as well as travel costs covered for two faculty to attend a CURE workshop.
Faculty develop and implement their undergraduate research experiences at CCRI (both the CUREs and Honors Projects) without additional resources. Not only do faculty not get compensated for any additional time they have, they need to work within the current budget for materials and supplies. They also do not have separate research labs, since all labs are teaching labs or classrooms that
are used throughout the day. This limitation impacts the type and scope of the research projects that can be done, and faculty take that into consideration when deciding on research projects.
Delaware Technical Community College (Stanton Campus), a member of the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative (CCURI), has been strengthening research in the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences programs. Both CUREs and apprentice-style models are being used. Teaching lab space is available; National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation (NSF) grants have funded equipment purchases and faculty development; lab fees are used to support supplies. Over the 5-year period of the grant, there has been a 50 percent increase in the completion rate. “With the increased student success rate, the college has provided an increased budget to support supply purchases for CUREs.”
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) (FL) has a strong STEM emphasis (heavy on engineering). Of the roughly 2,200 undergraduates, about 40 percent participate in research/scholarship and approximately 250 are directly funded by the Undergraduate Research Institute. Students participate in academic and summer research in projects that are encouraged to be multidisciplinary and multiyear. Current expansion of undergraduate research is into the introductory and intermediate-level courses. Some “study abroad” classes have a research component. As part of the accreditation, ERAU has chosen undergraduate research as its quality enhancement plan (QEP; a QEP is currently required by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for accreditation). With QEP funding, they have recently established an Undergraduate Research Institute (with two staff positions).
QEP funding allowed for the establishment of the Undergraduate Research Institute, basic/applied research and scholarship grants, a program director (joint direction of Honors) and an administrative assistant (joint with Honors).
Everett Community College, Ocean Research College Academy (Everett, WA) is a two-year, full time program for 120 students that includes an embedded longitudinal research project on a local estuary. Students are involved in data collection and analysis of biogeochemical metrics; training in the first year enables students to test self-directed questions in the second year. Students use a research vessel and a dedicated research lab funded by NSF. CCURI funding provided initial faculty release time to initiate the curriculum; maintaining that time (to mentor students) has been a struggle. The faculty report that 70 percent of the research students matriculated
to a STEM major in university this past year and that they will continue to advocate for the program in the face of anticipated budget cuts.
At Finger Lakes Community College (NY), the departments of Science and Technology and Environmental Conservation are offering research experiences through scheduled academic year courses and as summer courses. Investments in faculty training and a small amount of equipment have been important; other resources have come from repurposing current resources. Before the recent expansion “very few students were participating and now every student that takes general biology participates.”
Fort Lewis College (CO) is a “non-tribal, native-serving institution and one of only two colleges [that] provide free tuition to qualified Native Americans.” Organizational changes in the college, increased internal funding, and an active undergraduate research symposium support increasing undergraduate research at Fort Lewis College. To promote undergraduate research, an associate dean position was redefined 6 years ago to support undergraduate research programs, teaching credits for labs and STEM teaching load were modified to accommodate time for undergraduate research, and internal funding was increased. The symposium, started 12 years ago for STEM students, advertised to nonparticipating faculty what could be done with student research. Subsequent changes to departmental senior seminars and assessment plans promote undergraduate research. Challenges to sustaining the program involve declining state budgets and rising research costs, while there has been an increase in STEM majors and graduates between 2010 and 2015.
Within the STEM disciplines, reorganization of senior seminar courses happened after the undergraduate research symposium began. I think the departments began to see what undergraduates could accomplish, and wanted their students to have those experiences. Some of the changes were driven by external accreditation (Engineering); others were tied to revision of the departmental assessment plans. (When departments wrote learning outcomes involving the process of science, they started thinking about how they could improve those learning outcomes by having students do science themselves.) The dean has also been encouraging departments to involve students in research, partly because it benefits students, and partly as an encouragement to faculty to be more active in their fields.
The costs of undergraduate research, especially in the sciences, is high. Even when faculty/departments economize (i.e., group proj-
ects, less diversity of projects), it is not clear that costs are sustainable without some type of permanent funding (i.e., an endowment). Although our administration is encouraging undergraduate research-like experiences in all departments, the budget that they are applying to this mandate is not likewise rising to meet the increased needs.
The Gonzaga University (WA) Biology Department uses a combination of CUREs and apprentice-style research opportunities. The Phage Hunters course has been adapted to include isolation of new phage as the lab for the introductory biology course (BIOL 105: Information Flow in Biological Systems) and phage annotation in the lab for sophomore-level genetics. Faculty received training on how to develop a CURE through a collaborative Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) grant that supported seven colleges and universities; this helped the faculty and accelerated implementation of CUREs. Supply costs are managed by charging a $95 lab fee. Faculty efforts are supplemented by two lab coordinators and undergraduate teaching assistants, who receive course credit for their efforts. A research coordinator oversees the apprentice-model research program, which involves approximately 30 students per semester and about 65 students per summer, up from 20 in 2006.
Hope College’s (Holland, MI) Division of Natural and Applied Science is initiating a program called “Day1 Research Communities” for first-year students; capacity in five communities is about 170 students of 400 eligible. This program also emphasizes developing a “community of scholars.” Hope also has a significant apprentice model program and CUREs for upper-level students. Two of the five tracks are two-semester programs (“Phage Discovery” and “Watershed”) that demand more time investment by students and faculty and are thus more expensive to run. “Watershed” students come to campus a week early for fieldwork and live together during the year. A post baccalaureate lab director involved in both courses helps to lessen demands on faculty, as do upper-level students who serve as teaching assistants. Funding from HHMI has helped to expand course-based research experiences in general, but this has been done with an eye on sustainability. Unfortunately, cutting-edge techniques tend to require more expensive consumables and up-to-date equipment. If needed, the college will tap endowed funds.
Ivy Tech Community College (IN) “has come to appreciate the value of a URE for community college student” and offers both CUREs and summer UREs to students in biotechnology and nanotechnology. Students can participate in the NSF Community College Innovation Challenge and in the iGEM competition. The faculty make use of a wide range of support
organizations, including CCURI, CUR, CUREnet, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory DNA Learning Center, CyVerse, and local industrial partners. A mix of internal and external resources is available for supply costs, etc., but need remains for a dedicated lab and for funds for high tech expenditures. No stipends are available to students. Students who participated in UREs have presented posters at a variety of meetings and are reported to exhibit significant personal gains. Local industry is now requesting job applications from these students.
The Kapiolani Community College (HA) Math and Sciences Department is using a wide range of URE platforms, including bridge programs, grant-supported UREs, research-intensive courses that are part of the associates degree, elective CUREs, internships, and collaborative projects. In spring 2016, 49 of 391 registered students were in the elective CURE courses. A mix of institutional resources and grant funds are being used to support new staff in a STEM Center to support the new lab courses. There has been steady growth in enrollment and graduation numbers.
Lincoln University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Biology provides academic year undergraduate research both via a CURE (biotechniques course) and apprentice-style research (funded through an HBCU-UP grant that provides $500/student for supplies). Funding comes from research-active faculty with external grants and some departmental supply budget. The school is establishing an undergraduate research office with funding via Title III. Undergraduate research has been showcased at a campuswide symposium for the past 15 years.
At Longwood University (Farmville, VA), faculty are bringing research into the biology curriculum using both national CUREs (Genomics Education Partnership, synthetic biology) and a local CURE (Pilobolus distribution in nature). About 10 percent of the biology students participate per year, and plans are under way to expand this. A summer apprentice-style URE is also available at Longwood. While an Office of Student Research was initiated 8/2015, “[the] classroom related research programs typically are not recognized by University programs and exist solely at the discretion of faculty using course lab fees to support the project.” The Genomics Education Partnership, a national CURE, “provides essential resources that are outside of the expertise and budget of our faculty”; both small grants from GCAT and contributions from industry have also helped support the genomics CURE.
Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles, CA) has an undergraduate student body of about two-thirds of the 9,500 students enrolled. About a year
ago, the Office of Undergraduate Research went from a faculty director with administrative support to two permanent staff positions (three-quarter time associate director and half-time administrator coordinator). A research symposium started 8 years ago. UREs for all fields of study are primarily through apprentice-style experiences offered in both the summer and academic year. In the academic year, students are compensated via work-study funds, academic credit arranged through departments, or as volunteers. During the summer, students receive stipends, housing costs, academic skills workshops, and social gatherings through a university program. Some students are funded through outside grants to faculty. Faculty mentors receive no compensation from the university but receive recognition that may help toward tenure and promotion. The symposium participation has increased over the years. The cycle of increased URE participation spurred interests in staffing increases. Increases in staffing raises undergraduate research on campus, which starts the cycle again.
The Moreno Valley College (CA) Department of Natural Sciences and Kinesiology has expanded research experiences for biology and chemistry students. A major goal is to increase the transfer rate to four-year institutions, including top schools. The primary vehicle is class-based projects, but a few students are working on individual projects. Resources are very limited: only one biology lab, faculty (no lab instructors or teaching assistants), and the budget for the cook-book labs. Growing recognition by administrators and faculty of the importance of UREs is cited as the most valuable resource. The faculty report that increased participation in STEM research leads to students being more engaged, enthusiastic, and persisting in STEM.
At North Carolina Central University (Durham, NC), laboratories for the three introductory biology courses (required of all majors) have been transformed into research-infused labs. Participation in the research version is voluntary, and over the past 3 years 39 percent of the 440 eligible students have participated. The research experiences are organized in 5- to 10-week-long modules, and they maintain a continuity of practice using S. cerevisiae as the model system. Labs are designed to require only the scheduled lab times. This system seems to work well for the university’s students, who are 29 percent first generation, 65 percent Pell-grant supported, with little or no prior research experience. While this is a research-active campus “there are not enough labs to accommodate the large number of STEM majors. . . . CURE courses are essential for our university to expose large numbers of STEM students to a research experience.” A grant from HHMI has supported the introductory biology courses, including hiring a lab coordinator and supporting Science Education Post-Docs; the latter program will be lost when the grant ends, as state funding is extremely tight.
Penn State Brandywine, with around 1,600 students, is primarily a two-year college in which the majority of students transfer to complete their baccalaureate degrees. They have recently added four-year degrees in biology and in engineering (these have not been in place long enough to have graduates), and anticipate a program in environmental science. The campus is working toward expanding degree programs, with the goal of becoming a stand-alone four-year degree campus in the Penn State system. All types of undergraduate research are available (“engaged scholarship”): CUREs, apprentice-style during academic year and summer. Community-based research and service learning are available. There are challenges to the undergraduate research between terms due to liability issues for students who are not currently enrolled in credits. The recent formation of a faculty Undergraduate Research Committee centralizes funding efforts (the committee has a budget), and a new mini-grant program for students can cover research expenses. Two recent additions to undergraduate research on campus are awards for outstanding student researcher and outstanding faculty mentor (given annually). A quote on how the college does this:
What we needed to do was start having campus-wide conversations about how we as a campus define undergraduate research. . . . Once we came together across disciplines for at least one campuswide meeting a semester, we immediately grew as a community and had more faculty buy-in. . . . Our campus also has an institutional membership to CUR, and that has shown us faculty that the administration is also serious about undergraduate research and “branding” us as a campus that engages students and takes the research process seriously as a student learning outcome.
At St. Edward’s University (Austin, TX), the Biology Department faculty are participating in the Genomics Education Partnership and in the HHMI Phage Hunters program, and they are now starting to convert the freshman series labs to a local CURE.
While an institution-specific CURE has advantages with regard to focusing on local scientific questions, . . . they lack several benefits that come with participation in national CUREs . . . quality of infrastructure (project materials, databases, resources), and the resources to develop these; possibility of publication (education and scientific literature) for students and faculty; high impact on students career aspirations based on exposure/participation with a national collective; presentation at national venue—students see themselves as part of the scientific community.
Trinity University has built on a long history of undergraduate research in STEM fields. Undergraduate research has been expanded into the social sciences and humanities in the past 3 years. Both apprentice-style UREs and CUREs engage students. CUREs are primarily in upper-division courses, but are beginning to be part of introductory biology courses through a CURE on pollination. Engaged learning occurs in the social sciences through CUREs. Observed outcomes, whether or not related to undergraduate research, are increases in the number of entering students interested in STEM, the number of STEM majors, and the number of first generation and minority students at Trinity.
The University of Maryland, College Park initiated FIRE (First-Year Innovation & Research Experience) in 2014-2015 to provide inquiry-based experiences and broad mentorship for non-honors freshmen from all academic disciplines. The goal is to help students (about 400 this year) to view themselves “as a professional,” help them select a major, and increase academic success, as well as to integrate the education and research missions of the university. The program is modeled after the Freshman Research Initiative at University of Texas at Austin (see Box 3-9), with a similar three-semester structure. But FIRE also supports students in their transition during their fourth semester to the next step—whether an apprentice-style research experience, an internship, etc. Each research stream is led by a Ph.D.-level Research Educator, who plays a critical role for the success of the program. Assessment plans include participation in a HHMI-funded collaboration with Duke University, University of California, Santa Barbara, and others to use a new core assessment to measure student growth, satisfaction, self-efficacy, confidence, and motivation.
At the University of Pittsburgh, there has been a significant increase in CUREs targeted at first- and second-year students in biology, with some CUREs in chemistry as well. Both national efforts (SEA-Phages [Science Education Alliance Phage Hunters; see Box 3-7] and the Small World Initiative) and local CUREs based on research interests of individual faculty are being implemented. The goal is to enroll all introductory biology students (freshmen and sophomores) in either a one-semester or two-semester CURE by 2018. Costs are being managed by charging a lab fee for supply costs (currently $75, but may rise to around $150) and by using undergraduate teaching assistants, who do not get paid, for the majority of teaching assistant positions. Senior-level staffing remains an issue; there are about 1,200 introductory biology students per year, presenting challenges in terms of scale. The school reported on a “Persistence in The Sciences (PITS) survey, that links variables such as Project Ownership, Science Identity etc. with a self-reported interest in continuing in STEM. The PITS data show very
strong impacts in this area in all of the CREs we have assessed . . . in contrast to traditional labs that score very poorly….”
At the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, undergraduate research has long been important to institutional identity. Expansion of UREs has been continuous, with punctuated growth in 1997 and 2010 due to a differential tuition program to support experiential learning. Differential tuition provides expansion in student and faculty stipends and funds for student travel to professional conferences. Funds from this source approach $1 million. Programming efforts to support expansion of UREs target underrepresented students, first-year students, and international research. Current efforts focus on mentoring support, CUREs, community-based research, and first-year student participation. “These are being tackled during significant budget cuts, so [the efforts] are using human resources rather than funding.” Revising the curriculum supports a faculty research track, and CURE development is funded by an NSF grant with University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. The on-campus symposium is now a week-long celebration with increased participation by students and faculty.