Anoka-Ramsey biology instructor part of national network awarded $2 million National Science Foundation grant to investigate impacts of course-based undergraduate research experiences

Anoka-Ramsey biology instructor part of national network awarded $2 million National Science Foundation grant to investigate impacts of course-based undergraduate research experiences

March 07, 2023

Kristen Genet, biology instructor at Anoka-Ramsey Community College, is part of a national collaboration of colleagues from BCEENET (Biological Collections in Ecology and Evolution Network) recently awarded a grant from NSF to investigate the connections between expanding access to undergraduate research opportunities, achieving student learning outcomes and developing a broader community of scientists for the next generation.

“We know that undergraduate research experiences are critical for students in science. To learn how to do science, you actually have to DO science,” Genet says. “But there’s all kinds of barriers for both students and faculty when it comes to traditional research experiences. For faculty at community colleges, minority-serving institutions, or small primarily undergraduate institutions, many obstacles make it difficult to provide students with research experiences: there’s not enough time considering demanding teaching schedules, financial and administrative support, or infrastructure (including space, equipment, and supplies). For students, those obstacles could include available time, financial or physical limitations. They could also be limited availability of research opportunities or [a lack of] knowledge and the sort of social and cultural capital to seek out these research experiences.

So, using CUREs removes many of these barriers to undergraduate research opportunities because it integrates research into the class. Just by being part of the class, students are actively involved in research. And by embedding research into the curriculum, this also becomes part of faculty teaching load and course budgets, removing those institutional barriers as well.”

Genet and colleagues will study the impacts effects of open access CUREs using digitized natural history collections (museum and herbarium specimens) and freely available software applications, originally designed in 2020 as a result of a NSF rapid grant funding the development of cost-effective research opportunities for remote learning in the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, these BCEENET CUREs have been implemented at more than 20 institutions nationwide, exposing more than 3,000 students to undergraduate research opportunities. This newly funded project will include assessments of both student learning outcomes and the degree to which those students identify as scientists after their research experiences. These open access CUREs will make research opportunities more available for implementation by faculty at institutions where time, money, and infrastructure are limited as well as opening up undergraduate research opportunities to a broader and more diverse student population, which will help to reduce the equity gap in access to research.

The funded project will pay special attention to the ways students communicate and present scientific research findings, including at professional conferences. Genet says the development of those skills can make a key difference in helping students see themselves as scientists and members of the STEM community, which makes it more likely that those students will continue on into STEM careers.

“Our experiences indicate that research that extends beyond the classroom can make a tremendous difference in students’ academic and professional lives. What you do in the classroom is one thing,” she says. “But if you immerse yourself in the environment and interact with other scientists then that really raises the bar.”

The research will be funded through a nearly $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, beginning in 2023 and extending through 2028. Genet will join research colleagues from several institutions throughout the United States, including George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Widener University in Pennsylvania, Texas Tech University, Westfield State University in Massachusetts, Portland State University in Oregon and University of Florida.

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