Undergraduate Research at Community Colleges

Institutionalizing Applied Research at Redlands Community College

Penny Coggins

Vice President for Grants Development and Applied Research
Redlands Community College

This chapter describes the efforts to institutionalize applied research at Redlands Community College (Redlands) in Oklahoma. Redlands is a comprehensive community college. Its mission is teaching, and applied research augments this mission, adds to the students’ academic and skill-building experiences, and clearly promotes a research is teaching model.


Redlands Community College in El Reno, Oklahoma, is incorporating applied research into the curriculum of several academic programs. Currently, the programs most actively involved in applied research are located in the math and science and agriculture departments. An important aspect of our efforts is that the faculty members who have introduced research into their classes are following the philosophy that research is teaching. Our initial efforts indicate that one of the greatest values to undergraduate research is the students’ engagement. While there may be some exceptions, the vast majority of students who participate in research activities take ownership of their projects, often doing more than is required and frequently leading their instructors into new avenues of inquiry. In applied research, students are not passive learners; they become actively engaged in the learning process.


The State of Oklahoma introduced a strong research initiative as we entered the 21st century. Beginning in 2000, significant research funds were made available for this initiative, but none were awarded to community colleges. Clearly, if our students were to compete successfully with those who attended four-year institutions, they needed to overcome this disadvantage. Redlands students needed to be able to do more than understand the research process, and our administration realized the importance of engaging our students in research.

Larry Devane, president of Redlands Community College, has long had a vision of undergraduate research. Without a doubt, his support and leadership have greatly contributed to the extent that applied research has become institutionalized in the curriculum. When the college acquired its first agriculture site in 2000, President Devane named the site The Redlands Community College Agriculture Education and Applied Research Center. However, his vision would take a few more years to become reality.

The site had been unused and not maintained for several years. Buildings were in disrepair, and the weeds had grown so high some buildings were “discovered” as the mowing began. The center is now a showcase for agricultural education and applied research. Thanks to a statewide capital bond issue, public/private partnerships, and several large and small grants, the center is now home to a meat-goat demonstration laboratory, a grade A goat dairy, and a state-of-the-art artificial insemination laboratory. These programs all involve applied research, and students are involved in all research activities.

Prior to the state-wide initiative, Redlands had participated in two major activities that introduced our students to research. Since 2001, the college has been part of the IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE). This network, funded through the National Institutes of Health’s Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Program, provides funds for regional universities and community colleges to engage students in research projects. Oklahoma students participate in learning and training opportunities throughout the year and may participate in ongoing research projects in the state during the summer. Redlands students most often choose to join summer projects at the U. S. Department of Agriculture Research Services (USDA-ARS) facility located in El Reno. The research facility is less than five miles from the site of the Redlands Applied Research Center and is home to the Grazinglands Research Laboratory. Redlands’s INBRE activities are coordinated by Reonna Slagell-Gossen, one of our biology instructors. Mrs. Slagell-Gossen helps identify students for participation, represents the college at INBRE meetings, monitors student progress throughout the academic year and during the summer program, and generally serves as the academic and career counselor for INBRE students. Redlands students have participated in INBRE each year, with as many as 10 students participating in a given year.

The second research activity, which also began in 2001, is the Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program (Bridges). This program is expressly designed to help minority students, underrepresented in the sciences, transition from a two-year college to a four-year college. Redlands is one of several community colleges in the program that partner with East Central University (ECU) in Ada, Oklahoma. At the university, Terry Cluck and Charles Biles are responsible for securing the funding that supports Bridges, through a grant from the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health. The Bridges coordinator at Redlands is David Dalbow, a biology instructor.

Bridges Scholars are urged to become acquainted with faculty members and laboratory practices by working as an hourly paid aide during the regular semesters. Scholars attend four colloquia during the year, where they learn from researchers in various academic fields and participate in field trips to Oklahoma research facilities, including the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and the Oklahoma Heart Institute. Scholars are involved in a program-wide research project during the regular academic year; they meet weekly to collect, analyze, and report data on the current research project. The project in 2007-2008 for all Bridges Scholars was to collect data on airborne fungi in various parts of Oklahoma. Bridges Scholars from several different community colleges throughout the state and at ECU jointly prepare an article for publication in an undergraduate research journal.

Since Redlands’s involvement in this program, 14 students from groups underrepresented in the sciences have participated, representing Native American, African American, and Hispanic populations. Twelve of these students have conducted their own research and made presentations at national conferences in New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Austin. While most students have found it convenient to work with the scientists at the USDA Grazinglands Research Laboratory in El Reno, Bridges Scholars have also participated in research at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, the Noble Foundation, the University of New Mexico, the University of Oklahoma, and East Central University. These projects contributed greatly to developing the model for undergraduate applied research opportunities at Redlands and led the way for Redlands to become actively involved in applied research. Although community colleges in Oklahoma are still not participating at the rate of four-year and research institutions in the statewide initiative’s research funding, Redlands and others are developing their own opportunities, gaining very small pieces of the funding pie. Redlands has been creative in identifying external support for some applied research projects and has moved forward with projects even though funding is not available. Redlands relies heavily on public/private partnerships, in-kind donations from agencies and industries, and expert guidance from research facilities. Contributions may be as small as bags of feed for animal research activities or as large as equipment for the dairy, such as a large donation from the DeLaval Corporation.

In 2004, Redlands was designated by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (OSRHE) as a Center of Excellence in Agriculture. This designation provided funds to support student scholarships, internships for applied research, and studyabroad opportunities. Additionally, Redlands prepared a number of grant proposals through the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST). We have been successful in securing funding through the OCAST competition for three applied research projects. Each OCAST grant funds two student internships for work on research projects. The vast majority of applied research projects at Redlands are funded through external sources, including grants and contracts, with minimal institutional expenditures.