Safety Structures for Successful Undergraduate Research Apprenticeships: Supporting Underrepresented Minorities in STEM

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Tuesday, 4 February 2014: 5:15 PM
Room C109 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Dr Reginald Blake, New York City College of Technology, Brooklyn, NY; and J. Liou-Mark

The value of research experiences for undergraduate students has long been accepted and verified. Researchers have delved into this issue from many angles and have almost in unison proclaimed the many benefits of undergraduate research experiences. A plethora of solid good evidence and support for this view exists. Professional societies and educational organizations not only recognize the importance of undergraduate research experiences, but they have also used their influence to create initiatives and incentives for academic institutions to infuse research experiences in course curricula and to promote capstone experiences for senior students. Studies have found that undergraduate research enhances the educational experience of science undergraduates, attracts and retains talented students to careers in science, and acts as a pathway for minority students into science careers. Undergraduate research also supports active learning and science career decisions. Moreover, students gain independence, intrinsic motivation to learn, and active participation in courses taken after a summer undergraduate research experience. The literature is replete with studies showing that minority students who conduct summer research projects with faculty role models complete their undergraduate degrees, continue on to graduate school, and join the STEM workforce.

This presentation highlights the implementation of a set of safety structures that are critical to the success of underrepresented minority undergraduate STEM research initiatives. The New York City College of Technology has designed its NSF Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) program in satellite and ground-based remote sensing to target underrepresented minority students. Since the inception of the program in 2008, a total of 61 undergraduate students of which 51 (84%) are considered underrepresented minorities in STEM have finished or are continuing with their research or are pursuing their STEM endeavors. The program is comprised of the following three primary components.

The first component, Structured Learning Environments: Preparation and Mentorship, provides REU students the necessary training for proficiency in satellite and ground-based remote sensing research. The students attend three short courses in Geographic Information Systems, MATLAB, and Remote Sensing and a workshop on the Ethics of Research. Each REU student is a member of a team that consists of faculty mentors, post doctorate/graduate students, and high school students.

The second component, Student Support and Safety Nets, promotes strong intellectual support and social integration for the REU students that enable the REU Scholars to become successful researchers. Special networking and brown bag sessions and an annual picnic with research scientists provide students with opportunities to expand their professional communities. Graduate school support is provided through standard examination preparation courses and workshops that assist the graduate school application process. Additionally, students are supported by college counselors. Many of the students are first generation college students who often face issues that can impede their academic progress.

The last component, Vision and Impetus for Advancement, creates prospects for students to see themselves as STEM scientists and workforce professionals. STEM exposure field trips give students an opportunity to meet scientists working in industry, government agencies, and national laboratories. Additionally, the students also present their research project and participate at local, regional, and national conferences. Furthermore, since many of the students were never given the chance to visit STEM-focused industries and to participate in conferences, this component of the program helps to broaden their STEM experience.

This comprehensive research apprenticeship design has resulted in a climate where underrepresented minority students are continuing to persist in their STEM disciplines. Additionally, a culture of pursuing advanced degrees in STEM has been cultivated among the REU students, and from this program a new generation of well-trained STEM professionals has or will be joining the STEM workforce. (This program is supported by NSF REU grant #1062934.)