In 2008, NHCC forged ahead with an idea that is relatively uncommon in community colleges. Science faculty began to engage students in undergraduate research projects.
Undergraduate research allows students to work closely with a faculty member to generate or discover new information in a particular field. The scholarly projects have proven to be an effective mechanism to enhance hands-on learning, discovery, collaboration, critical thinking and engagement.
Projects can take many forms such as field or laboratory research, interviewing, writing, archiving, art and even interpretive plays, and also include:
- Mentorship - student work is done in collaboration with the faculty.
- Originality - the work generated is original to student.
- Acceptable Methods - generally accepted methods of creation used in academic discipline.
- Result Dissemination - the work needs to be in a final form to be shared and reviewed by others.
In 2008-2009, 34 students engaged in undergraduate research in biology, chemistry, and geology and made 37 research presentations at 12 conferences in 5 states (MN, WI, NE, and IN). The conferences include the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, Geological Society of America Regional Meeting, American Chemical Society Regional Meeting, Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference, Minnesota Academy of Science Winchell Symposium, University of Minnesota Undergraduate Research Conference, Society of Wetland Scientists, and St. Mary's University Research Symposium. Students have received awards from the American Chemical Society and have also secured internships at the University of Minnesota and other prestigious research institutions.
And students are already off to a good start for 2010... The National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) at the University of Montana in April is the largest undergraduate research conference in the U.S., having 318 institutions represented with 2,517 student presentations. Only 3 community colleges (Cerritos CC, Norwalk, CA; Kapi'olani CC, Honolulu, HI; and NHCC) will have student presenters at this meeting for a total of 16 research presentations. NHCC will have 4 of the 16 presentations!
As a result of participation in undergraduate research, students view themselves as competent and capable members of the scientific community and imagine themselves more clearly as professionals in their desired field. Students have reported immediately pursuing research experiences when they transfer to four-year institutions and doing so with confidence and knowledge of the process from beginning to end. Furthermore, Minnesota employers indicate that these are the skills that future employees need in order to be successful in the workplace.
Council on Undergraduate Research
The Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) is a leading educational organization that supports and promotes undergraduate research and scholarship through its affiliated colleges, universities, and individuals.
NHCC is a recipient of a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant and has been selected to host a CUR conference in October 2011 on institutionalizing undergraduate research at community colleges. Only 1 of 12 community colleges in the U.S. have been designated as a mentor institution for undergraduate research at community colleges and just 12 national CUR conferences will be held over the next 3 years.
In addition, NHCC will be the first community college to host the Minnesota Academy of Science meeting scheduled for April 2011.