Supporting STEM Success in a Liberal Arts Context > Developing Inquiry Skills

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Developing Inquiry Skills

Inquiry skills can be infused throughout a curriculum, and can be organized to benefit both student and faculty mentor. The incentive to teach research skills that emerges among faculty from a mentored research program is also an important driver of curricular innovation. Faculty effort required for teaching research skills may seem to be a trade-off against faculty time for pursuing research, but in most successful cases faculty scholarship and student learning are synergistic; students can make meaningful contributions to research, and student learning outcomes are increased in inquiry-driven courses. A large proportion of scholarly publications by faculty at Capstone Institutions include student coauthors. What Do We Mean by "Inquiry" »

Create an Inquiry-Rich Curriculum

An inquiry-rich curriculum incorporates elements of research at any stage of student development. An inquiry-rich curriculum structure may be linear or iterative, but a key goal is to expose students to scientific problem-solving processes. Often this helps prepare students for research experiences outside of a credit-bearing course. For some programs, the research-driven curriculum is viewed as an effective means of teaching the discipline and efficiently reaching large numbers of students. A range of strategies may be pursued, from teaching stand-alone skills (i.e. looking at a figure from the primary literature) to offering open-ended lab modules to implementing full project-based courses.

Grow an Undergraduate Research Program

Undergraduate research experiences following the apprenticeship model allow students to dedicate time to completing an entire, authentic research experience from inception to publication or to helping with a project at some point along the way with the understanding of all of the components for completion. These experiences support an important set of student outcomes related to cognitive, career, and skills development. Critical to success are design of a complete experience, strong mentoring, and linking the specific experience to participants' course work and to a more general understanding of the nature of scientific research, including the collaborative nature of the scientific community.

Find Resources to Support Student Inquiry

Supporting student inquiry can be done at multiple levels and at multiple cost points. Sometimes, resources are found by shifting priorities. The most successful programs provide resources and time for faculty development and curricular revisions and also feature faculty research projects that are adaptable in ways that benefit and support undergraduate research. The importance of appropriate teaching lab spaces and equipment should not be overlooked. Research productivity is a measure of success, and many Capstone Institutions support student and faculty travel to scientific meetings. Administrative support for tracking student success can help faculty shape effective research programs.

Capstone Institutions have enjoyed generous support from HHMI, but have also garnered other funding. They have supported research through a variety of funding mechanisms that change over time. For example, some aspects of a research program may be first funded through an internal donor and then through a grant from a national foundation, or vice versa. A successful summer research program can inspire investment in linked curriculum or programming, by both internal and external stakeholders.


Russell, S. H., Hancock, M. P., & McCullough, J. (2007). "Benefits of undergraduate research experiences." Science, 316(5824), 548–549.

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