GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 27-8
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-5:30 PM


ALLEN, Joseph L. and KUEHN, Stephen C., Department of Physical Sciences, Concord University, Athens, WV 24712

Recent collaborations between higher education and industry have reconsidered the effectiveness of undergraduate curricula in preparing graduates with workforce-relevant skills and competencies (e.g., Summa et al., 2017, GSA Today; Saxe and Braddy, 2015, Mathematical Assoc. Am.). A common outcome is the realization that the “status quo is unacceptable”, because the STEM workforce seeks visionary employees equipped with a broad base of fluid, intellectual skills that promote interdisciplinary collaboration and adaptation to technological change. This notion contrasts with historic curricular trends in which scaffolding is built upon completion of a given course in a specific sequence. In this context, skill acquisition is largely a vehicle to solve a particular style of problem and advance to the next course.

At our institution, we have designed a 5-semester, undergraduate research experience (URE) to develop scientific skills and confidence in research and collaboration. The URE examines the petrology, geochemistry, and structural geology of a suite of seismogenic, mid-crustal fault rocks from the Homestake shear zone in the Colorado Rockies. Students prepare and characterize samples using optical petrography and EPMA during the first four semesters and conclude with original mapping at the field site. Each student retains the same samples and progressively writes a journal-style paper over four semesters in which earlier sections may be revised. In contrast to single-semester, course-based UREs this more closely emulates the temporal pace of research and allows for metacognitive development as hypotheses are formulated, tested, and revised.

We evaluated learning gains from two cohorts using questions from the URSSA in comparison to published results from students with one-on-one UREs at other institutions – an ideal apprenticeship model. In our open-admission, upscaled URE, students showed significant personal and professional gains relative to the comparison group (p < 0.05), including problem solving, confidence in ability to do research and contribute to science, and comfort in discussing science with faculty and student collaborators. In this presentation, we examine these data and suggest that extending a course-based URE promotes development of critical workforce skills.