The excitement of completing a research experience focuses on translating information learned in the classroom to systems that could be encountered in the real-world. Actively engaging and enhancing the educational experience of underrepresented students, including Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing (D/HH) students, through involvement in unique undergraduate research experiences continues to pose challenges at the post-secondary institutions. Many underrepresented minorities and D/HH students often do not know where to go in order to engage in research activities. The truth of the matter is that they can be reluctant to approach professors because “they don’t look or communicate like them”…something heard time and again. This mindset can deter anyone from these two groups from pursuing activities such as research. To counter such impeding feelings and break down barriers that cause these students to feel isolated, faculty members have actively recruited these students into the lab in order to give them a glimpse of this world once thought to be closed off to them. Painting a picture of possibilities entices both underrepresented minority and D/HH students to want to try their hands at research.
In this experience report, we will show how a major university, composed of a large underrepresented minority and D/HH population, has a lively undergraduate research environment that is driven by the faculty and supported by the administration. It boasts a large annual symposium where undergraduates can showcase the fruits of their research (including one specifically for D/HH students). In addition to institute funds for student researcher stipends; supplies; and conference travel, the university has grants from NIH, NSF, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation to specifically support minority and D/HH students in research projects. Each of these support mechanisms has helped this group make tremendous strides in boosting their self-confidence, feel a sense of community, increase the likelihood that they pursue graduate degrees, and assist them in becoming more encultured into their professional fields. We have found that it is important to get to know the students and strategically coach and mentor the students while teaching them, in a stepwise manner, how research works. Designing projects that have achievable checkpoints helps students progress through the research and helps to prevent them from getting frustrated or lost in the project, or withdrawing from the activity altogether. Through perseverance and continued encouragement from the faculty member, these students often achieve a level of success where the work they complete is featured in a publication or conference presentation. This reward leads these students to engage on a deeper level and ask questions pertaining to being successful in graduate school— which helps to combat the “leaking pipeline” for these students in obtaining graduate degrees and entering quality careers. And in effect, these students encourage other underrepresented minority and D/HH students to engage in research activities— bringing the initiative full circle.
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