Demonstrate the effectiveness of the CURE to multiple stakeholders

This page was developed by Kelly McDonald (California State University, Sacramento) and Sara Brownell (Arizona State University).

A critical part of sustaining a CURE is being able to demonstrate to various stakeholders that it is effective at meeting its goals. It is important to note that different stakeholders, such as funding agencies, administrators, instructors, and students, have different goals and priorities and thus will be motivated by different types of assessment data. For example, documenting student retention and the numbers of students involved can be really important for administrators, funding agencies, state support of public universities, and private donors and already aligns with metrics that colleges must track. Funding agencies are influenced by showing prior data from earlier funding that is evidence of success that can be leveraged into a second source of funding. Administrators may be more influenced by retention or enrollment data or economic benefits realized in terms of reduced attrition or retained tuition dollars. Instructors want to see benefits for students, themselves, and their department or institution. Students want to see benefits for themselves, such as learning, skill development, utility of their coursework, and relevance to their communities and careers.

Evidence of success for funders

CUREs are often started with some seed funding, but need to obtain additional sources of funding for sustainability. The nature and goals of a funding agency may influence what type of evidence would be most convincing. For example, national funding agencies may be more influenced by systematically collected data whereas private foundations or donors may be more influenced by compelling examples and individual student stories.

The Genomics Education Partnership is a large consortium that started with an HHMI Investigator award, and has since expanded to receive almost continual grant support from the NSF and NIH funding. To support these grant proposals, they assessed how the program affected both students (e.g., learning gains and attitudes towards science) and faculty (e.g., sense of belonging with the GEP community and self-reported impacts on their tenure and promotion process).
The SIRIUS project at Sacramento State has garnered substantial institutional and private donor support by taking the narrative approach. For example, they brought students who had participated in the CURE courses to present to the institutional advisory boards and fundraising events.

It is not easy to get funding from a national organization (e.g., National Science Foundation, Howard Hughes Medical Institute) to sustain an existing program by simply replicating what has already been done. Rather, there is an emphasis on innovation for new funding. Think creatively about how to broaden the program or bring in a new element and then use part of the new funding to continue to support the existing infrastructure.

The SIRIUS project at Sacramento State University has received multiple rounds of funding from national funding agencies to continually expand the size of the program and head in new directions. A key to their success was highlighting data indicating that existing program is successful. They have collected data on student outcomes, including using the Laboratory Course Assessment Survey (Corwin et al., 2015) to demonstrated that students perceive their curriculum to include opportunities for students to make relevant discoveries and engage in iterative and collaborative work. They have also been able to use this evaluation data to improve their CURE courses and demonstrate improvement over time.

Program assessment is no small task. It may help to collaborate with scholars who have expertise in evaluating student outcomes.

In the early stages of the BASIL program, they recruited a discipline-based education researcher to collect data on the success of the project and kept this person as a key collaborator. These assessment data have helped them secure further funding.

Student outcomes and institutional recognition for administrators

Administrators are interested in how CURE efforts can increase institutional recognition and prestige. It can be helpful to explain to administrators about the CURE initiatives happening on their campuses and how CUREs align with national recommendations for undergraduate reform efforts, student engagement, and broadening diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM. This may require explicit language around the broad benefits of CUREs, and highlighting that not offering students opportunities to participate in research may be disadvantaging students at that institution. Armed with this knowledge, administrators can leverage these valuable CURE initiatives in their development, marketing, and recruitment efforts.

The SIRIUS program is a source of institutional pride at Sacramento State. The program leaders actively connected with upper-level administration to communicate the value that SIRIUS brings to Sacramento State. The president regularly holds up the SIRIUS project as an example of the unique opportunities available at Sacramento State when he talks to the media and donors. They found that administrators were particularly interested in numbers, especially the numbers of students who were not getting research experiences before SIRIUS and and how many students are getting research experiences because of SIRIUS.

It can also be compelling to explain to administrators how CURE initiatives align with existing institutional missions and strategic planning. In this way, administrators can see CURE initiatives as a possible solution to an institutional goal that had already been established. While institutions have a variety of demands from different stakeholders, common goals include increasing student recruitment, retention, and graduation rates. Administrators may be particularly influenced by these types of student data.

The Freshman Research Initiative at UT Austin has collected data to demonstrate that participation in the FRI program has resulted in higher graduation rates for students in the College of Natural Sciences, retention of students within STEM, continuance to graduate and professional schools and careers in STEM fields, and increased earning potential in these fields. These outcomes have been important in justifying the cost of this program to institutional administration.

Benefits for instructors and their students

CURE sustainability is dependent on instructors choosing to continue teaching the CURE or recruiting additional instructors to teach the CURE. Instructors can be motivated to teach CUREs by evidence of benefits for students and benefits for themselves (Shortlidge, Bangera, & Brownell, 2015). Relevant evidence of student outcomes include: providing evidence that students who participate in CUREs have better (or at least not worse) educational outcomes later in their academic careers (e.g., that failure rates in subsequent courses are not higher due to "missing content"); attitudinal data; science process skills; reduced or eliminated equity gaps in CUREs; and increased numbers of students wanting to be scientists. Relevant evidence of faculty outcomes include: publications from undergraduate work in CUREs, examples of CURE students generating pilot data that helped garner new funding, examples of successful grant applications that relied on CUREs to meet funder requirements (e.g., National Science Foundation broader impacts review criterion), and establishment of new collaborations with other faculty.

At UT Austin, the Freshman Research Initiative gained substantial interest from faculty when they saw that undergraduates could contribute meaningfully to research efforts. Publications resulting from CUREs have been critical. As of 2019, there were 375 citations (publications, conference proceedings, and abstracts) that resulted from or included FRI research.