Students encouraged to engage in research

An element in FM’s new Performance Improvement Plan is the desire that nearly every FM student has an opportunity to engage in applied and experiential learning. The opportunity for lower division (i.e., in the first two years of college) undergraduate students to engage in research, especially those already majoring in a STEM, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, field or still exploring the possibility, is one way of gaining applied and experiential learning skills.

Science education professionals widely agree that engaging students in real research attracts and retains them in STEM. Researchers agree that undergraduate research experiences, especially early experiences, lead to increased student technical and personal skills, higher grades, increased persistence in STEM-degree programs, shorter degree completion times and increased placement in STEM careers. These research experiences can take place during the academic year or over the summer. But most first- and second-year college students require more preparation for research.

To prepare students in their first and second year of college for research, most four-year colleges and a growing number of two-year colleges now offer students the opportunity to engage in hands-on research, scholarship, and discovery as from the second semester of their first year. These lower division students are introduced to the methods of science research through an Introduction to Science Research course.

The growing number of state and national conference and meeting opportunities that invite community college students to present the results of their research and creative activities is a testament of the value and growing importance of the early undergraduate research experience. At the national level, community college students can present their work at the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research or at annual meetings of The Council on Undergraduate Research.

At state level, our students can present their research and creative works at the recently instituted SUNY Undergraduate Research Conference. SUNY Cobleskill will be hosting the 2016 SURC on Friday, April 15. Students and their faculty mentors have until Feb. 5 to submit proposals on-line to present at the 2016 SURC.

This new trend in early undergraduate STEM education has not gone unnoticed at FM.

In line with the science division’s recently revised operational goal number 2 – “to provide students with opportunities for intellectual development in the sciences,” – the division last fall approved a new Methods of Science Research, SCI295, course. The course aims to prepare STEM students for upper level scientific courses and summer research internships by providing them with in-depth knowledge of experimental design and data analysis and introducing them to the essential components of the scientific research design process.

The important and unique aspect of this new laboratory course as compared to the traditional laboratory component of lower division science courses is that it is inquiry-based and employs an open-ended, multi-week approach that gives pairs of students a research-like experience. This format has the advantage of directly tying experiential learning into the learning process.

SCI 295 is offered for the first time in the spring semester of 2016.

With the current push towards “applied learning” by the SUNY Board of Trustees, (see Board of Trustees Resolution on Applied Learning), the development and adoption of a new science course that prepares students to engage in high-level STEM research during the summer and get personalized research mentoring is transformative and one that would provide our liberal arts science and general study students with the professional skills that STEM businesses expect of new graduates.

Gilbert Ayuk is instructor of physics at FM and the campus SURC liaison.

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