MEETING THE CHALLENGES OF EMBEDDING AN UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH EXPERIENCE IN A GENERAL-EDUCATION SCIENCE COURSE FOR FIRST-SEMESTER STUDENTS
In designing and implementing the FYRES research experience, we adapted best practices from research on undergraduate research experiences and science education to build a variety of support structures into the student experience, including research teams, near-peer mentors, a research community, required reflection, scaffolded activities, a structured research process, and authentic research questions. Two iterations of the course have resulted in 36 first-year students mentored by 11 upper-level geoscience majors completing 9 original research projects. Evaluation of the program’s effectiveness included semi-structured interviews and pre-/post- tests.
Evaluation results indicate that the first-year participants feel strongly that support structures incorporated into the course are both essential and successful to mitigate the challenge of designing and carrying out an authentic science investigation on dunes. Particular support structures which the first-year students self-identify as vitally important include the undergraduate research mentor devoted to guiding the research process of one research team, participation on a research team (rather than an individualized project), and scheduled time together as a research team. FYRES project successes demonstrate that embedding an authentic and substantive research experience into the curriculum can benefit a larger number of students than would be possible with more traditional faculty-student research pairings.