Promoting STEM Education in Community College Students via Research
The REU (research experience for undergraduates) can be a formative and beneficial experience for students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) majors. These programs most often select the top undergraduate students to perform research at prestigious universities. The REU that is the topic of this paper takes another approach in order to broaden the participation of community college students in STEM majors and careers. The Nanotechnology REU with a Focus on Community Colleges brings the top students from local two year campuses to a top-tier university for a 10-week research internship. Students traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields including minorities, females, first generation to attend college, and economically disadvantaged are targeted for participation in this REU program. Each REU intern is matched with a nanotechnology research laboratory and a postdoc or graduate student mentor. The REU intern group meets weekly to share experiences as well as to receive guidance on navigating the campus, managing the demands of research, working with their mentors and faculty, and acquiring the skills and experience to assimilate in a four-year university. Throughout the program, participants deepen their understanding of the scientific concepts of their research and practice sharing their research projects. Each student creates a presentation and poster of their research and results to disseminate at a campus-wide symposium to an audience that includes students, faculty, and the community. Beyond the REU program, past participants are tracked to follow up on their achievements and academic and career path such as transition to four-year universities and STEM degree acquisition.
The program has been offered most summers since 2010 for up to 10 students each summer. Area community colleges work with the university to publicize the REU program and bring in a high number of applicants. Using a rubric to rank the applications, the top applicants are interviewed to probe students’ motivations and interests and final participants are selected. The program is evaluated by an external assessor via surveys, focus groups, interviews, and attendance at the poster presentation and review of the students’ posters. This paper addresses the details of the program, the findings of the evaluation to date, and the program’s successes and sustained impact.
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