7 July 2015

Engaging First-Year College Students in Scientific Research

Richard Fienberg

Richard Fienberg, AAS Press Officer

This post originally appeared on the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) blog and appears here by permission:

Investing in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education is critical to the nation and its future. Projections indicate that by 2022 there will be 1 million fewer STEM college graduates than US industries will need. We also rely on students and workers trained in STEM disciplines to address complex challenges now and in the future across areas as diverse as the environment, human health and well-being, and national security. One way to simultaneously train a robust STEM workforce and to tackle pressing science and technology issues is to provide undergraduate students with opportunities to perform authentic research early in their college careers.

Embedding research opportunities in introductory STEM courses gives first-year students the chance see science and engineering at work. These opportunities help students to connect what they learn in class to real-world applications. From designing a low-cost life-saving medical device for use in developing countries, to searching for undiscovered asteroids, to understanding the impact of potentially damaging chemicals in the local environment, research projects put scientific knowledge into context and let students do science and engineering, instead of just reading about what scientists and engineers have done before them. Having students participate in research early in their careers encourages the curiosity, creativity, and collaboration that will lead the next generation of scientists and engineers to innovative new discoveries. Bringing research experiences into the classroom also contributes to the development of a more scientifically literate society that better understands science, technology, engineering, and math and the critical roles that these disciplines play in our global society.

In addition, engaging early-career undergraduate students in course-based research experiences can benefit faculty pursuing cutting-edge research. College and university faculty around the country are bringing research into their classrooms through a variety of models, transforming the way they teach and capitalizing on the enthusiasm and brainpower of college students to help advance scientific inquiry. If more introductory college courses took advantage of the crowd-sourcing (or "student-sourcing") effects of a shared research agenda, just imagine the incredible discoveries we could unlock!

In 2012 the President Obama announced an ambitious goal to revitalize STEM education nationwide and train a million new STEM graduates by 2022. Expanding opportunities for first-year undergraduates to pursue STEM research is one way to help make this goal a reality. But we need your input to do it. Are you bringing research experiences into classrooms on your campus? What results have you seen? What innovative ideas do you have for getting introductory-level undergraduate students involved in research? Please share your thoughts, comments, stories, and experiences with us at ResearchCourses@ostp.gov.

— Meredith Drosback

Meredith Drosback is Assistant Director for Education and Physical Sciences at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.