Find Resources to Support Student Inquiry
Supporting student inquiry can be done at multiple levels and at multiple cost points. While launching a large summer research program or a curricular overhaul can be quite expensive, other activities such as preparing students to do off-campus research, providing opportunities for students to present research experiences on campus, or integrating research skills into existing courses can be achieved with minimal resources.
It is very important to consider that funding for inquiry-based activities supports many broad goals, including deepening student learning, improving numbers of students who persist in the sciences, preparing students for post-graduate studies and employment opportunities, enhancing scholarly productivity, and raising an institution's profile.
Expenses for summer research often include allowances for supplies and equipment and stipends for student researchers. Appropriately located and outfitted spaces (faculty or teaching labs) are critical for student research. Faculty may need incentives to take on summer research students (beyond the contributions a research student makes toward scholarly productivity). To reap the full benefits of undergraduate research, funding should be available for students and faculty mentors to travel for presentations at regional/national conferences.
Established in 1967, Smith's Summer Research Fellowship (SURF) celebrates almost fifty years of providing women scientists the opportunity for an immersive experience to conduct independent research under the mentorship of our science faculty and staff. The program itself is funded by a patchwork of grant, college, and endowment sources, with HHMI providing consistent funding for quite some time.
In 2003, the A. Paul Schaap Science Center opened, along with the renovated Peale Science Center. More laboratory space, with faculty offices located adjacent to labs, facilitates a vibrant summer undergraduate research fellowship program, funded with NSF, HHMI, and other internal and external funds. In 2013, the Haworth Engineering Center, a three-level, 9,000-square-foot wing added to VanderWerf Hall, opened, and was designed specifically for the engineering program's emphasis on hands-on learning in courses and research.
Offer faculty development support for faculty to learn to employ engaged pedagogies in their classrooms, integrate inquiry-based skills into their courses, balance content with skill development, and be effective research mentors:
- Support lunchtime discussion series or summer workshops for groups of faculty to discuss synergies between teaching and scholarship (research questions, model organisms, laboratory skills and techniques, methods of analysis)
- Fund conference travel to familiarize faculty with new systems or to learn about other successful models
- Offer stipends and course releases for course and module development
- Include staff support for initial or continuing implementation, especially for lab research
Engaging colleagues in sustained conversations (over departmental lunches, in pedagogy seminars, through book groups) has been a valuable strategy for shifting culture and reforming curriculum.
Provide adequate administrative support for coordinating logistics and assessment of summer research programs:
- Administrative support for tracking student success can help faculty shape research programs
- Plan ahead to collect and provide access to data and tools for assessment
- Assessment tools such as the SURE and CURE surveys help evaluate the impact on students' confidence and sense of belonging as scientists
- Research productivity is another measure of success, and many Capstone Institutions support student and faculty travel to scientific meetings
Synergies with Other Efforts
Expenses may be offset by other institutional or departmental goals and considerations:
- A co-curricular student research program is often conceived as a support to faculty scholarship and could, in turn, be at least partially supported by their research grant funding.
The collaborative scholarship between faculty and students fostered by our course-based research experiences have begun to yield demonstrable scholarly outputs, including grant funding as well as scientific and discipline-based education research publications and presentations. These courses have afforded our students the opportunity to share their work as scientists, some even by the end of their first year of college, to a professional audience.
- A research course or embedded activity may focus on a faculty member's research organism, may have a class gather pilot data for a new branch of scholarship, or may introduce students to literature or skills that will make the student a productive lab member in the future.
- Credit-bearing research experiences may decrease demand for upper-level electives.
Hope College has embedded research in courses from the first course some students take through culminating capstone experiences. In addition, research for academic credit is also a common option for students.
- Hiring upper-level students to serve as teaching assistants or research assistants provides fairly inexpensive support to improve student learning and course management. The upper-level students also benefit from this type of experience (Mahlab, 2010).
- Garnering external funding may help generate institutional gifts from donors and vice versa. All Capstone Institutions have benefited from support from HHMI, but have also attracted funding from internal sources such as endowment spending and gifts and funding from other external sources such as the National Science Foundation.
Barnard's Summer Research Internships (largely funded by HHMI), which supported about 20 students per summer, has blossomed into Barnard's Summer Research Institute (SRI). The SRI supported 120 students in each of the last two years (2014 and 2015), bringing them together for faculty lectures, safety workshops, presentation workshops, social events and a culminating poster session. This growth demonstrates the popularity of apprenticeship research programs and that external funding can attract endowment funding and vice versa.
- Embedding inquiry-driven courses and activities into core curricula rather than as add-ons can enhance student learning and persistence and is an efficient way to provide access to research (see below).
Research as Part of the Curriculum
Course-embedded research is way to provide research opportunities to large numbers of students.
- This can be an efficient way to deliver the benefits of research to more students, but beware that some schools have observed that students become so interested in research through course-embedded inquiry that they actively seek dedicated co-curricular research experiences. Demand for student summer research experiences may actually increase.
- For some schools, students can be captured who would otherwise have to wait to continue in the biology curriculum or who may be disengaged in traditional non-inquiry driven courses.
- Skill development can be accomplished in pieces (for example, analysis of figures in primary literature).
At Morehouse, many of the students [from courses with embedded research] have been funneled into research scholar programs available on campus, nicely capitalizing on the increased engagement in research.
The learning gains that Barnard students exhibit after an authentic research experience has led the Barnard biology department to alter its major requirements to include more apprentice-based research in lieu of traditional laboratory courses.
Hope College has embedded research in courses from the first course some students take through culminating capstone experiences. The Day1: Watershed program is one example of a first-year, course-based research experience that not only brings faculty research programs into the classroom, but engages students and faculty in a program that impacts the local community.
Mahlab, M. (2010) "Who Benefits? Peer Mentors at Grinnell College," CUR Quarterly 31 (2), Winter 2010: 7–10.