June 23, 2013
June 23, 2013
June 26, 2013
Educational Research and Methods
23.23.1 - 23.23.16
A case study exploring the influences of engaging community college students in biomedical engineering research experiencesThe American Association of Community Colleges reported in 2010 that 43% of undergraduatestudents in the U.S. are enrolled in community colleges. Approximately 50% of the AfricanAmericans and Hispanics who are undergraduate students attend community colleges. Inaddition, 57% of community college students are females and 46% receive some form offinancial aid. Based on the increasing enrollment numbers and student demographics,community colleges play a critical role in supporting the U.S. efforts to increase the diversity,knowledge base, and skill level of the STEM workforce. However, community colleges facenumerous challenges that are hindering their success, including the transfer rates of students into4-year colleges to earn bachelor degrees, particularly in engineering fields. Research hasindicated that 44% of community college students who intended to transfer dropped out orstopped out within six years and only 26% obtained bachelor’s degrees within nine years.Factors contributing to these challenges include the lack of resources at community colleges tosupport innovative educational practices and opportunities and the lack collaboration betweencommunity and 4-year colleges. In response to national position papers, the first published in1998 by the Boyer Commission, undergraduate research experiences have become a critical andintegral component of undergraduate STEM education. Substantial funding and resources toprovide more undergraduates with the opportunity to engage in authentic research experienceshas been expended, however, primarily to 4-year colleges and not community colleges. Thefocus of this study is an engineering Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) program at a4-year college in the Midwest that recruited undergraduate students from local communitycolleges. In the 10-week summer program, under the supervision of a faculty member, eachcommunity college student was paired with a graduate student and an experienced undergraduateresearcher to work on a biomedical engineering research project. With this being the first year ofcommunity college student involvement in this REU program, a case study approach was used toexamine the following research question, “What do community college students gain from anundergraduate research experience?” Three data sources were analyzed to develop the case study,including the program applications, surveys, and interviews. The constant comparative methodwas used to develop conceptual categories that addressed the research question. The resultsindicated that the community college students experienced many gains, including the opportunityto explore research career options and work environment; increased intrinsic desire to learn moreabout the research process; higher, more defined academic and career goals; decision makingabout academic plans; discovery and confirmation of interests and likes related to engineering;and, more awareness and understanding of what it takes to succeed in engineering. Providingresearch experiences to community colleges students suggests that more students will beencouraged and prepared to obtain degrees and enter into the engineering workforce. In addition,these findings suggest that REU programs have the potential to facilitate engineeringcollaborations between community and 4-year colleges. Lastly, this study contributes a valuabledata source to support future research to improve science education in community colleges.
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