Undergraduate Research at Community Colleges

An Overview of Undergraduate Research in Community Colleges

Brent D. Cejda

Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Higher Education University of Nebraska, Lincoln and Executive Director, National Council of Instructional Administrators

In 2006, the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) and the National Council of Instructional Administrators (NCIA) received a two-year planning grant from the Advanced Technological Education program (ATE award #0603119) of the National Science Foundation. The key component of this planning grant was a series of regional conversations about undergraduate research at community colleges. This chapter describes the process of conducting the conversations and provides a summary of those discussions.

The primary goal of our CUR/NCIA planning grant was to develop a basic understanding of the status of undergraduate research in community colleges. In the process of developing this understanding, we wanted to identify potential partners from community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, business and industry, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. We also wanted to develop resources that will broaden the involvement of community college students in undergraduate research. To accomplish our goal, we worked with a steering committee to organize and develop a series of regional conversations.

Six conversations were held between October 2006 and October 2007. In chronological order, discussions were convened at Harold Washington College (Chicago, IL), Georgia Perimeter College (Lawrenceville, GA), Mt. San Antonio College (Walnut, CA), Redlands Community College (El Reno, OK), North Seattle Community College (Seattle, WA), and Bunker Hill Community College (Boston, MA). For each conversation we identified a facilitator, an individual knowledgeable about undergraduate research, and a local contact—someone to assist with the identification of potential participants for the conversation, as well as the logistical aspects necessary to conduct it.

Our goal was to have between 20 and 25 individuals at each conversation. Within each group, the ideal was to include faculty members and administrators from at least four community colleges and two four-year institutions, as well as two "outside" individuals. The outside individuals were drawn from business and industry, governmental agencies, and other non-profit organizations such as museums. In total, the conversations involved participants from 27 community colleges, 13 four-year institutions, and 8 outside entities.

After each conversation, the facilitator, the local contact, the Executive Officer of CUR and the Executive Director of NCIA held a debriefing. As a result of the initial debriefings, we made a number of logistical changes. The initial conversations were two days in length, and a number of participants were not able to attend both days. As a result, we shortened the schedule for three of the conversations to facilitate attendance of the participants throughout the entire event. Based on feedback from the participants at the earlier events, we included in the final three conversations current or former community college students who had participated in research activities. In each instance, the students made brief presentations about their research and commented on the importance of participation in undergraduate research to their educational growth and development.

At each conversation, the facilitator guided large- and small-group discussions focusing on three broad questions related to student research:

  • What is currently happening regarding undergraduate research at community colleges?
  • In what kind of research activities would community colleges like to involve undergraduates?
  • How could CUR and NCIA help community colleges realize their goals for students’ participation in undergraduate research?

The facilitator summarized primary points from large-group discussions and gained consensus regarding the importance of these points among the participants. Recorders did the same for each small-group discussion, and a sharing session at the end of each small-group session created opportunities for expanded discussion among the total group of participants. All points were captured using laptop computers, and the files were then combined to prepare a report for each conversation. The participants received the report and had the opportunity to provide additional comments.