Undergraduate Research in Geoscience at University of Colorado at Boulder
The University of Colorado in Boulder is an R1 research university, granting bachelors, masters and PhDs. The RECCS (Research Experiences for Community College Students) internship program is a collaboration between two large environmental research institutions at CU Boulder - the CIRES - a NOAA Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences - and INSTAAR, the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research and its Boulder Creek Critical Zone Observatory.
These two research institutions are home to well over 600 scientists and a few dozen faculty members. Both institutions have vibrant graduate student associations with over 150 graduate students.
Research Program Description
The RECCS (Research Experiences for Community College Students) program is a summer internship program for environmental and critical zone sciences available to community college students from across Colorado.
Ten students receive a weekly stipend to conduct research at the University of Colorado over a nine-week period in the summer (June/July). This opportunity is open to all community college students in Colorado – all four corners! Housing is provided for students living beyond the Denver Metro area.
This research opportunity offers an opportunity to conduct research, both field and lab based, while working with a team of scientists. Students learn basic research, writing and communication skills, and they present their research at a local student science symposium, as well at a national conference.
The program goals are:
Goal 1: RECCS students develop a toolkit that sets them up to be successful in a 4-year college science program and beyond, be it graduate school or a professional career.
Goal 2: RECCS students increase confidence in their academic capabilities, retain their interest in science and develop a vision for their personal pathway to being a scientist.
Outcomes and Benefits
All our participants successfully completed their research projects, presented their work in a poster and an oral presentation. They also completed a paper on their work. Some students' work was part of a publication or other scientific presentations or reports. Some of our students attended national science conferences. One of the alumni won an NSF scholarship for a 2YR college.
They all reported that they learned a lot about science, science communication, careers in science and specific research skills relevant to their project. They further formed a tight cohort of students support each other through the internship and beyond. The boost of additional confidence in their abilities was something that most students pointed out.
Challenges and Solutions
Financial: CU's payment policy is that payment can only be made for students after two weeks of work. Our program targets diverse, first generation college students some of which support family members. For some of the students it was difficult to not receive weekly or up-front payment. In addition, a few students did not have bank accounts but payment can only be made into bank accounts. In our second year we provided the students with a financial training from the local credit union.
Persistence: For some of the students the internship was the start to continuing work with their mentors or publish their work. However, some of the students got overwhelmed by life after the internship and dropped out of these additional opportunities, leaving some of the mentor-student relationships damaged.
Keys to Success
The key to success is a good mentor-mentee match and strong support from the project team.
Our other key to success is weekly science communication training which helps guide students through their internship and has them work on the parts of their posters and presentations early on. These weekly meetings also provided great cohort building opportunities.
Advice: Be very deliberate in selecting students and matching the students with the mentors. We will add additional questions to our application form about applicant's career interest and ask more about the specific needs of a project as well as the preparation of the student.
Advice: Make sure you evaluate the outcomes rigorously to measure the success of your program.