2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 186-6
Presentation Time: 9:25 AM


LORD, Mark, KINNER, David, MOUNTJOY, Bryant and CATO, Michael, Geosciences and Natural Resources, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC 28723, mlord@wcu.edu

Increasingly, faculty have developed course-based undergraduate research experiences (CREs) to provide more opportunities and more equitable access to this high-impact practice. In the geosciences at Western Carolina University, undergraduate research fellows (URFs) help the Western Carolina Hydrological Research Station (wchrs.wcu.edu) to advance science and provide CRE opportunities. They are essential to making our model of CREs sustainable.

With support of NSF, we’ve developed a collaborative CRE model, used for 4 years in 12 geology classes. URFs assist in running the research station and supporting CREs. Their role as an URF is unique: it spans from technician, to research assistant, to teaching assistant, to research coach/mentor, to advisory board member. As much as feasible, they are our partners. Most URFs work during the academic year, but we’ve hired 2 or 3 each summer. Summer fellows help with data analysis, improving site access, development of apps and website features, and ongoing research.

To support the hydrologic station, the URFs collect data weekly and monthly, including groundwater levels, stream stages, soil moisture, and precipitation. To support CREs, the role of the fellows vary depending on class level, their available time, and the nature of the research project. For example, in introductory geology, the fellows coached small groups of students to facilitate sampling and understanding during a water quality research project. In a hydrogeology class, a fellow provided logistical support for students conducting research on groundwater-stream water interaction and provided informal, formative feedback to student research groups on their research questions, design, and analysis. We meet regularly with fellows to provide guidance, background, and, importantly, to seek their input.

The benefits of the URFs to the instructors and students of the classes are innumerable; key areas are providing increased feedback to students, logistical support, and meeting students outside class. The fellows let us keep essential parts of the research experience (e.g. question definition, study design, and analysis), while hiding nonessential parts (e.g. calibration of instruments). The URFs show gains in areas of group membership, leadership, scientific skills, and communication.