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Community Building Activities Enhance Research Experience For Undergraduates

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

BME Laboratory Courses and Experiences

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

14.343.1 - 14.343.9

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Paper Authors


Melissa Micou University of California, San Diego

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Melissa Kurtis Micou is a Lecturer in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego and the PI of the NSF REU in Regenerative Medicine, Multi-Scale Bioengineering, and Systems Biology.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract


Undergraduate research experiences expand student participation in research as a means of developing a diverse, internationally competitive, and globally-engaged science and engineering workforce. After an undergraduate research experience students should be prepared and motivated to pursue careers in science and engineering. A critical component of an effective program is the cultivation of a positive and supportive community by fostering student-student and student-faculty relationships. The potential benefits of transitioning a summer research experience composed primarily of isolated research and seminars to one based on a learning community approach has recently been demonstrated. In 2008, the Department of Bioengineering at The University of California, San Diego (UCSD) initiated a ten-week summer program through a National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) site grant in Regenerative Medicine, Multi-Scale Bioengineering, and Systems Biology with an emphasis on community building. The overall objective was to provide to each undergraduate student an intellectually-stimulating and hands-on research experience in a supportive environment by encouraging the formation of a learning community. Achievement of the program's objective was assessed based on the research accomplishments of the participants and through anonymous surveys. Survey results demonstrated that REU participants felt like welcome members of the university and the department and that their experience left them with a positive impression of research. Furthermore, the community-building activities did not detract from their research. Incorporating community-building activities into undergraduate research programs can help provide students with a more meaningful and positive research experience.


Despite widespread recognition of the importance of maintaining a well-trained science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce and significant efforts to recruit and retain students in these fields, the number of students earning engineering undergraduate and advanced degrees in STEM fields in the United States is decreasing. One proven mechanism for encouraging undergraduates to pursue advanced degrees in STEM fields is participation in undergraduate research 3, 4. The NSF funds a large number of REUs in STEM fields through both site grants and REU supplements. Survey results from over 2,600 engineering REU program participants between 2003 and 2006 showed that overall satisfaction with the program correlate strongly with the amount of time spent with graduate students, post docs, and faculty 3. Furthermore, common suggestions for improving REU programs included additional training of mentors and increased interaction with other undergraduate researchers and graduate students 3. While these findings were derived specifically from engineering REU programs they are relevant to undergraduate research programs in general. An earlier study of a wide range of NSF- sponsored undergraduate research opportunities found that being an active participant in the culture of research (i.e. participating because it seemed fun, gaining independence, attending conferences, and understanding the “big picture”) was more strongly correlated with positive outcomes than having successfully completed research proposals, reports, or poster presentations 4 . Taken together, these findings support the assertion that a critical component of an undergraduate research program is the cultivation of a positive and supportive environment by

Micou, M. (2009, June), Community Building Activities Enhance Research Experience For Undergraduates Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas.

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