November 21, 2019

Day 1 – Community College Undergraduate Research Experience (URE) Summit 2019

Posted by Laura Guertin

This post is part of a collection of blog posts I made from the Community College Undergraduate Research Experience (URE) Summit, held in Washington DC from November 20-22, 2019. Be sure to also check out Day 2 and Day 3.

Slide capturing the expected summit outcomes (click on image to enlarge)


For three days, I am attending the Community College Undergraduate Research Experience (URE) Summit in Washington DC. Why did the National Science Foundation and the American Association of Community Colleges bring together 130 individuals representing diverse examples of UREs from across STEM disciplines for a summit?

PURPOSE: The summit is focused on the role of community colleges in building, implementing, and sustaining undergraduate research experiences (UREs) in STEM education and workforce preparation. The event is designed to highlight community college leadership in STEM by raising awareness of the innovative use of UREs as an effective and proven strategy for career skills development, student retention, and academic success.

Before providing a summary of the first day, I want to share how the summit is defining undergraduate research experiences when the phrase is used:

Undergraduate research experiences (UREs) use the scientific method and/or the engineering design process to promote student learning by investigating a problem where the solution is unknown to students or faculty. UREs provide students with essential workplace and life-long learning skills such as collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, creative thinking, and communication.

Examples include: course-based research; mentored research as part of a larger project, such as REUs; student-centered research such as independent studies and honors projects; employer-based research such as internships, co-ops, and apprenticeships; and STEM design challenges and competitions.


After a round of welcomes and an overview of the summit agenda, we heard what I think might be the most powerful voices at the summit – the voices of students.

Four students shared their stories of undergraduate research experiences in the first two years and beyond. During the panel discussion and Q&A about UREs, students opened up about everything from the importance of mentorship to their own personal growth. I jotted down two pages of notes, as this conversation was rich with points for my own reflection and action-items. Here are some highlights:

  • There are many points of entry to UREs – students are asked by a faculty member, have a course-based research project, or respond to an open opportunity.
  • The students feel that UREs provide access to resources other students do not have.
  • UREs provide a novel experience, make you “revolutionize” the way you think about research, spark a spirit inside, and help with skill development (including the importance of quality, and fixing what a student breaks themselves)
  • When asked, “when did you think of yourself as a scientist and not as a student?”, the panelists shared that it was not one instant. Alexa said it was when she was coming up with ideas for troubleshooting her work after having gone through the literature. Paula said it was just from spending alot of time in the lab, even if she wasn’t really doing anything in the lab and just watching the outcome of others doing research.
  • When asked, “what advice do you have for faculty to tell students about getting involved in undergraduate research?”, the panelists overwhelmingly said that students don’t know these opportunities even exist – let students know about them! Faculty are encouraged to spend time going out of their way to encourage students to participate, to take students to conferences even if they are not presenting to learn about opportunities, and to play a strong role as a mentor. The audience was told that students may not “bite” right away on the opportunity, but faculty need to know that they have no idea the impact we have as a mentor.
  • The panel expanded on the barriers that are stopping students from participating in UREs. Time is certainly an important piece, such as the student scheduling not matching up with when the lab is open and that not matching up with when the mentor is available. One panelist said faculty should clearly share the time committment for undergraduate research to make the student more comfortable with the time that will be involved. A financial incentive is important to offer. Students are not aware from the start how the project and the skills they develop will help them. And faculty should “sell” students on a a part of a project the student may like and are interested in.
  • One audience member asked the panelists, “what made you say ‘yes’?” One panelist said is was being brought on a tour of the faculty member’s lab and bring brought to a conference. One panelist shared that she was part of a cohort from an undergraduate student club. To me, most striking response was from the panelist that shared, “it was a faculty member saying this is a good fit for me.” Students can also be effective in pitching the research experiences to other students, but the faculty mentor is the voice students want to hear.
  • The last question I’ll highlight is one where the students were asked, “what should faculty tell administrators?” The strongest response came from Paula, stating that diversity matters. She said that her and others would like to be in a lab surrounded by people that look like her, as this provides a feeling of security and safety to have someone to talk to. Administrators should hire diverse faculty to mentor diverse students.

Celeste Carter (Program Director, NSF) ended the panel by challenging the audience on thinking about how effective faculty are in getting other faculty to mentor student research. Even more for us to consider…

Student panelists, left to right: Reggie King, Danial Nasr, Alexa Bennett, Paula Kirya

The evening ended with a poster session. Thirty-eight posters were on display that highlighted course-based UREs (CUREs), undergraduate research courses, independent study/honors projects, internships, STEM challenge/design competitions, REUs, and posters that describle multiple models of UREs. My poster fell into this final category. I’ll do a separate post on the collaboration with with my campus library and writing center, as we explore “Students Developing Multiple Literacies through Audio Narratives on Global Warming Solutions.”

This first day was only a half-day of meeting activities. The second day is going to be a full day of discussions and working groups – sure to be a productive yet exhausting day!