posted June 4, 2009

Book Highlights Hope’s Approach to Science Education

Hope College's approach to preparing future scientists through involvement in undergraduate research is highlighted in a new book that advocates extending such efforts nationwide.

A team of Hope faculty contribute a chapter to the book "Broadening Participation in Undergraduate Research: Fostering Excellence and Enhancing Impact," published recently by the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR).  The Hope-authored chapter, "Enriching a Culture of Research: Expanding Opportunities to a Broader Community," provides an overview of programs at Hope designed to broaden the college's decades-long practice of involving students in undergraduate research as a teaching tool.

"Hope has a well-documented record of success in training students for careers in science by giving them the opportunity to do science, through collaborative research with faculty mentors," said Dr. Moses Lee, who is dean for the natural and applied sciences and a professor of chemistry at Hope.

"Nationally, we have a tremendous need to produce more scientists, and we also know that nationally there are a variety of groups that are underrepresented in the science disciplines," he said.  "In recent years we here at Hope have developed a variety of initiatives geared toward reaching out to new groups of students.  I'm glad that we can be of help by sharing our story with others."

The book was co-edited by Dr. Mary Boyd, who is dean of arts and sciences at the University of San Diego, and Dr. Jodi L. Wesemann, who is assistant director for higher education with the American Chemical Society.  CUR outlined the publication's goals during a panel presentation at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, June 3.

"Broadening participation in undergraduate research is about maximizing potential - the potential of students, research, and institutions - and expanding our understanding of the world," Boyd said.  "High-quality programs across the country are enhancing the lives of students, the direction of their scholarship and its impact on their disciplines and institutions."

According to "Broadening Participation in Undergraduate Research," the nation faces several imperatives:  the need for students in all disciplines to fulfill their potential; the need for more students to study and pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); and the need for more research-based solutions to the serious scientific, economic and social problems facing the nation.

"Undergraduate research is a proven and powerful way to achieve these goals," Boyd said.  "High-quality research and scholarship activities enhance educational outcomes in all areas of study, encourage young people to pursue STEM-related disciplines and contribute to the body of knowledge needed to tackle serious problems."

"Another equally important imperative is increasing opportunities for students who haven't traditionally been involved in research," she said.  "The nation won't solve our most difficult challenges unless we unleash the full potential of all our best and brightest students."

In addition to Lee, the authors of the Hope chapter are Dr. Karen Nordell Pearson, visiting associate professor of chemistry and director of the Midstates Consortium for Math and Science; Dr. Kenneth L. Brown, associate professor of chemistry; Dr. Herbert L. Dershem, professor of computer science; Dr. Kathy Winnett-Murray, professor of biology; and Dr. Christopher C. Barney, who is the T. Elliott Weier Professor of Biology.

Each year, approximately 85 percent of the Hope students majoring in the natural and applied sciences work side-by-side with a faculty member on an original research project.  The total includes approximately 160 students engaged in such work full-time for eight to 10 weeks each summer.  It is one of the largest STEM summer research programs among all predominantly undergraduate institutions in the nation.

The programs outlined in the college's chapter in "Broadening Participation in Undergraduate Research" focus on providing research experiences to high school students, students at two-year colleges, and students who are planning to become elementary- and secondary-level teachers. 

Through the "HHMI Science Education Scholars Program," established in 2004 through support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Hope provides research experiences for students interested in teaching at the K-12 level.  The program seeks to provide the future teachers with experience that they can use to help excite their own students about careers in the sciences.

Through "Project REACH" (Research Experience Across Cultures at Hope), created in 2005, area high school students and teachers engage in research for six weeks during the summer with Hope's science, engineering and mathematics faculty.  The goal is to provide meaningful learning experiences to the students as they consider their interest in pursuing careers in one of the STEM fields in college, and to involve the teachers in research activity that they can in turn apply to their own classroom teaching.

The remaining two initiatives focus on students at two-year institutions.  Lee noted that a large percentage of the students currently pursuing higher education in the U.S. are attending two-year colleges, and that a large percentage of those students are members of ethnic groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences.

Through involvement in the "STEM-ENGINES Undergraduate Research Collaborative," established in 2006, Hope is part of a group of colleges and universities working together to increase the number of Chicago-area students who pursue careers in science.  Led by the City Colleges of Chicago, the consortium links several two-year colleges in the Chicago area with Hope and other schools whose research programs in the sciences actively involve undergraduate students.  The students participate in research at Hope or the other participating four-year institutions in the summer, with the possibility of transferring to the four-year school after completing their two-year program.

Through the "Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics" (S-STEM) program, Hope is recruiting students who have completed work at a variety of community colleges in Michigan.  Through the program, the students have the opportunity to continue their education at Hope, including through a full-time collaborative research experience with a faculty member during the summer before beginning classes at the college.

The Council on Undergraduate Research supports faculty development for high-quality undergraduate student-faculty collaborative research and scholarship.  Nearly 600 institutions and more than 3,000 individuals belong to CUR.  CUR believes that the best way to capture student interest and create enthusiasm for a discipline is through research in close collaboration with faculty members.

Additional information about "Broadening Participation in Undergraduate Research" is available on CUR's Web site at http://www.cur.org/publications.html.