Undergraduate Research at Community Colleges

Resources Available In Support of Undergraduate Research at Community Colleges

Patricia Ann Mabrouk

Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology
Northeastern University, Boston,

This chapter reviews some of the many resources that are available in support of undergraduate research efforts with community college students. Included in the chapter are resources that are specific to community colleges as well as information focused on undergraduate research at universities and four-year colleges.

Until recently, much of the efforts and resources in support of undergraduate research (UR) have been focused on research universities and baccalaureate colleges. Admittedly, four-year colleges have different academic missions and serve different student populations compared to those at two-year colleges. There is, however, a great deal of similarity between two- and four-year colleges. Both institutional types are focused on the mission of teaching and on the education of undergraduates. Community college faculty may also benefit from partnerships with UR efforts taking place at research universities. These institutions have faculty, facilities, instrumentation, and other resources that may be useful to community colleges that desire to offer UR experiences to their students.

It is also important to recognize that, until recently, undergraduate research was primarily conducted in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematical (STEM) disciplines. Even today much of what we know about undergraduate research, many of undergraduate research programs, and the bulk of the external funding available in support of UR has resulted from work in the STEM disciplines. Although there is a growing UR movement among faculty in the humanities and social sciences at many community colleges, this monograph focuses on examples from STEM disciplines; thus, the resources are targeted to those disciplines. Readers are strongly encouraged to examine each of the previous chapters for examples of placing the resources into action and to be creative and to think “outside the box” in terms of how to leverage the information and resources listed in support of UR efforts.

Models for UR at Community Colleges

There are many models for undergraduate research. One of the more familiar is the single investigator driven research program model in which students assist faculty on the faculty’s research project. In this model, the faculty advisor guides the student through the research process. However, there are many models worthy of investigation. Research Corporation’s “Academic Excellence” edited by Michael P. Doyle (Doyle, 2000) is an invaluable resource for faculty considering starting their own individual undergraduate research programs or for departments or institutions considering developing such programs. The book discusses the value of research in an undergraduate education and gives examples of different approaches to undergraduate research. The examples are heavily focused on efforts in the chemical sciences but the information will be valuable to anyone interested in undergraduate research. If there are not adequate resources to support UR on campus, faculty may wish to consider partnering with faculty or researchers that have similar research interests at neighboring colleges, universities, or companies.

Increasingly, due to the complexity of the research problems tackled, a collaborative model that brings together technical experts from several disciplines is appropriate. This model may be advantageous for community college faculty at institutions that lack the needed culture and infrastructure (e.g., bibliographic, safety - chemical, radioactive, biological, institutional review board for human subjects research, research space, materials, equipment, instrumentation, etc.) to support the type of research the faculty member and his/her undergraduate research students wish to pursue. Raymond Turner, formerly at Roxbury Community College, developed a community-based, culturally sensitive (to students of color), collaborative environmental sciences program nicknamed FUSION (Facilitating Urban Science Initiatives by Organizational Networking) (Turner, 2004) in partnership with researchers at nearby Northeastern University and the Harvard School of Public Health. According to Turner, benefits of his model include increased recruitment and retention of students in the sciences. Another fine example of a collaborative UR effort involving community colleges is the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Community College Consortium (JPL CCC; avail. URL: http://jplccc.jpl.nasa.gov/index.cfm and also see URL: http://protostar.calstatela.edu/cure/). The Consortium, which began in 1999, is a collaboration between the California State University of Los Angeles (CSLA), the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and four nearby community colleges, specifically, Los Angeles City College, East Los Angeles College, Los Angeles Southwest College, and Pasadena City College. JPL CCC runs a year-round community-based National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program (Award No. 0139675) in astronomy and astrophysics referred to as the Consortium for Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) Program.