Possibilities at Two-Year Colleges

Conducting student research at two-year colleges can be challenging. But there is a range of possibilities and models for 2YC faculty to use in getting their students research experiences. Below are detailed strategies you can use with your students, illustrated by examples shared by other faculty. You can also browse the full collection of example programs.

Research In Class

Research as a part of a regular course can take many forms.

  • Inquiry-based laboratory activities such as investigative cases can replace "follow the recipe" type activities in lab sections.
  • Stringing together a series of such labs can lead students to reach larger conclusions and illuminate how geoscientists approach science and exploration.
  • Long-term monitoring projects, such as local streams or wells, are examples of research experiences that can serve multiple years' worth of students with a relatively low threshold for participation. As an example of this, see Cinzia Cervato's Groundwater Wells activity.
  • Using online databases (such as the USGS) can allow research even when taking students into the field to gather data would be prohibitive.

Conducting research in class also provides an opportunity to involve students from previous classes as peer mentors, giving them additional experience and providing additional guidance for the students coming through the class for the first time.

Measuring tree growth
Penn State Brandywine - Laura Guertin
Professor Guertin uses range of inquiry-based projects with students in general education courses that involve students generating their own hypotheses and designing projects to test them. Based on those projects she approaches students to see if they are interested in an independent study project in a future semester.

Build a Course Around a Particular Research Question

Integrate research into your course design by identifying a community need or local issue and then organizing a class around research into that particular issue. To maximize the time invested in designing a new course, think of an issue that is long term or geographically large enough to support at least a few terms of student work and then each new set of students can build on the work of those that came before. This kind of service learning project can yield great benefits for students and the community at large.

Independent Study Research

Independent Study can be an option for students who have proven they are capable of satisfactorily completing smaller in-class projects and who have an interest in conducting more in-depth research. Whether it's organized over the summer, as a 1-credit course during the school year, or as an optional add-on to a regular course, an independent study opportunity has the potential to give students a more "real-world" research experience. If your institution gives credit for this kind of independent study it can also provide students a relatively inexpensive way to gain experience and have more geology on their transcript.

NOVA Mineralogy Students
Northern Virginia Community College - Shelley Jaye
Professor Jaye has been able to establish a small research project involving Honors Mineralogy students in a long-running partnership with the US Geological Survey. The project involves teaching students how to make thin-sections of rock and then complete detailed petrographic descriptions and modal analyses of crystalline basement rock cored from the Virginia Coastal Plain.
White Sulfur Spring cave exploration
Central Wyoming College - Suzanne (Suki) Smaglik
Since 2003, Professor Smaglik has conducted research with more than 20 students involving a variety of topics that are important in their region. The longest running study looks at the biogeochemistry and microbiology of thermophiles in Hot Springs Park, Thermopolis, WY. What started as a simple mapping exercise has evolved to identifying more than 50 genera of microbes, some of which appear to be unique to the area.