Research OpportunitiesOpportunities for research are important parts of many STC efforts in undergraduate education. Research has a two-fold benefit for undergraduates-they gain valuable experience that can strengthen their job and graduate school possibilities and can become inspired to pursue further study by finding out what scientific research is like.
An image of "in situ hybridization of mRNA in a hypothalmus" from the Center for Biological Timing. Annually during the summer, th center offers udergraduates ten weeks of laboratory research experience under the guidance of a center researcher.
What makes many of the STC undergraduate research programs unique is that undergraduates are important parts of research teams involved in advanced scientific work. Undergraduates join ongoing projects as well as pursue independent projects under the guidance of STC researchers. These research experiences incorporate all the elements of a quality research environment, including data collection, analysis, and formal presentation of results to other scientists. The programs mentioned below exemplify some of the many successes that the STCs have had in using research experience to attract undergraduates to careers in science.
Curriculum Development and Degree ProgramsWith the constant flow of new scientific discoveries today, it is important to update undergraduate curricula to reflect these changes. STC researchers collaborate with university faculty at colleges and universities across the nation to highlight current scientific developments in undergraduate curricula.
STC researchers, for instance, have introduced many new courses at Stheir own institutions:
Some efforts at creating new undergraduate courses have resulted in the establishment of entirely new undergraduate degree programs. Examples can be found at the University of Pennsylvania, home to the Center for Research in Cognitive Science. The university's Cognitive and Computer Science Dual Degree Program allows students to achieve both a B.S.E. (or B.A.S.) in computer science and a B.A. in either linguistics, mathematics, philosophy, or psychology. The university also has an undergraduate minor in cognitive science. Many of the center's faculty supervise work-study students through their various laboratories and research projects. On average, more than 60 undergraduates at a time are actively pursuing studies in cognitive science, through the degree program, the minor, or various courses developed by center faculty. In addition to the primary disciplines that make up the Center, the students are drawn from such diverse fields as anthropology, nursing, and South Asian studies.
The Center for Advanced Cement-Based Materials works closely with its industrial affiliates and local industry leaders to expose students to reserch experiences in both the acedemic and industrial atmosphere. Students spend a portion of their time in the laboratories of local companies.
Students Helping Students: Teaching Experiences for UndergraduatesWhen undergraduate students are mentors and teachers for younger students, everyone learns. Younger students learn about new ideas while the older students learn to communicate these ideas effectively. Several STC programs involving K-12 and undergraduate students generate an enthusiasm that is continually reinforced for all of the program participants.
In the "Project SEARCH" program coordinated by the Center for Magnetic Resonance Technology for Basic Biological Research, 52 undergraduates and four professors from the University of Illinois develop and present hands-on science projects for students in five K-6 schools and two after-school programs. The students participate as part of an independent study class. The undergraduates have designed several interesting projects, including a game where the children solve a crime by a "notorious animal gang" by sorting through animal classifications and habitats at the university's natural science museum. These undergraduates also receive a unique educational experience, as they learn to communicate their own love of science to children and primary school teachers. They also get a good hands-on education in issues of science education and its role in society. Very few undergraduate science programs in the nation include such an extensive community service component. Rachel Tappan, a University of Illinois biology major who participated in the program summed up the experience by saying, "I think the kids like seeing science for themselves. It makes the concepts more real to them...I hope it helps the children see how interesting science can be, and that science is more than just facts in a book-it's all around us."
Several other STC initiatives involve undergraduates in K-12 activities. Before they conduct summer research, undergraduates at the Center for Ultrafast Optical Science help center staff to teach K-12 students in the "SummerScience for Girls" program. Through participating in the K-12 program, undergraduates spend the first two weeks of a ten-week research program getting a head start on what material in optics they need to know for their research projects. They then work on specific projects under the direction of mentors. Half or more of the participants have been women or underrepresented minorities.
In a program involving the Center for Research in Cognitive Science, 130 University of Pennsylvania science majors visit more than 700 students in grades 4-8 at 22 Philadelphia schools. The undergraduates act as mentors to the younger students, guiding them through experiments in probability, probabalistic phenomena, and visual and auditory perception.
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