Grand Challenges Undergraduate Research Scholars Program: An Interdisciplinary Model to Increase Student Involvement in Sustainability Research

Wednesday 11:30am-1:30pm UMC Aspen Rooms
Poster Presentation Part of Sustainability and the Environment


Rachel Kennison, University of California-Los Angeles
The first UCLA Grand Challenge, "A Sustainable LA, Thriving in a Hotter Los Angeles" provides a path for the Los Angeles, California region to become 100% sustainable in renewable energy, local water resources and biodiversity by 2050. Approximately 160 UCLA Faculty are currently collaborating to work toward this goal. The Grand Challenges Undergraduate Research Scholars Program (GC-URSP) was created in fall 2014 to integrate sophomores into sustainability research by being matched with a Grand Challenges faculty mentor to complete a year-long research project and concurrently participate in a companion class. The overall goal of the program was to prepare students to be the next generation of sustainability problem solvers. The objectives of the class were: to acquire tools to successfully support an individual research project, work in an interdisciplinary team to change an environmental behavior and effectively communicate results. The pedagogical approach to the class was student centered with activities and group work as well as guest presentations from different content areas.

The first cohort was comprised of students from 22 different majors from life/physical science, social science, arts and humanities and faculty represented 30 different departments. Along with sophomores, 10 seniors were accepted to be "Project Consultants". They had a separate curriculum, were trained as leaders with a focus on mentoring, teaching, and facilitating the group projects. Pre and post surveys were completed each quarter to assess content knowledge as well as effectiveness in achieving the goals of the program. Preliminary results showed that content knowledge increased in research skills, scientific writing, oral presentation skills and interdisciplinary teamwork. Students were more likely to continue in their research settings for the summer or the following academic year. The model to connect the classroom activities with a research experience appeared to increase student interest and involvement in sustainability research and activism.