Education research center helps lead project on undergraduate research

The Center for Postsecondary Research in the Indiana University School of Education will help lead a five-year study aimed at strengthening undergraduate research and creating cohesive, research-based curricula for college-level biology, chemistry, physics and psychology.

The project is funded with a $1.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation to the Council on Undergraduate Research, a Washington, D.C.-based organization.

Jillian Kinzie

Jillian Kinzie

The IU center will work with 12 colleges and universities and 24 academic departments on the project. The institutions and departments are being identified.

“We know that undergraduate research matters, but we don’t fully understand what goes on in undergraduate research initiatives,” said Jillian Kinzie, associate director of the Center for Postsecondary Research and a co-principal investigator for the grant. “This project will allow us to look at them in more depth.”

The project, “Integrating and Scaffolding Research into Undergraduate STEM Curricula: Probing Faculty, Student, Disciplinary and Institutional Pathways to Transformational Change,” aims to produce a better understanding of how students benefit from undergraduate research and to make research opportunities more widely available to students.

The Center on Postsecondary Research at IU Bloomington is known for producing the National Survey of Student Engagement and several related studies that examine college students’ participation in high-impact practices known to promote learning. Working with a faculty member on research is one high-impact practice.

“We know that students, faculty and employers all like it,” Kinzie said, referring to undergraduate research. “Students who experience it benefit greatly.”

But while the advantages of doing research are known, opportunities are limited because of the way college curricula are designed and the roles that faculty are expected to play, she said. Typically, only a small number of highly motivated undergraduates get to do research.

The project will include surveys, interviews and observations of students and faculty to learn how student characteristics and academic cultures influence participation in undergraduate research. It will explore the potential for scaffolding, or building supports into the curricula that make room for ongoing research experiences.

“By interposing and scaffolding these experiences, the real hope is that we can make these experiences more widely available to students,” Kinzie said.

Elizabeth Ambos, executive officer of the Council on Undergraduate Research, is the principal investigator for the grant. Co-principal investigators include Kinzie; Mitchell R. Malachowski, professor of chemistry at the University of San Diego; Kerry K. Karukstis, professor of chemistry at Harvey Mudd College; and Jeffrey M. Osborn, dean of the School of Science and professor of biology at the College of New Jersey.

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