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Engaging early-stage undergraduate students in research through a Science Communication Fellowship

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2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Baltimore , Maryland

Publication Date

June 25, 2023

Start Date

June 25, 2023

End Date

June 28, 2023

Conference Session

Improving Retention & Self-Efficacy through Experiential Learning and Research Programs

Tagged Division

Cooperative and Experiential Education Division (CEED)

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Sydney Donohue University of New Mexico Orcid 16x16

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Sydney Donohue is a graduate student in the Water Resources Program at the University of New Mexico. She works as the Outreach Coordinator for the Center for Water and the Environment and the Intermountain West Transformation Network. She holds a B.A. in Ecology from the University of Georgia.

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Kamryn G. Zachek

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Kamryn Zachek is a sophomore undergraduate student at the University of New Mexico studying Economics and Environmental Science. She is a Regent scholar and the student lead for the Grand Challenge Water Science Communication fellowship at UNM.

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Alex Webster University of New Mexico


Timothy L. Schroeder

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Tim Schroeder is the Project Director for the STEM Gateway Program at the University of New Mexico. In this capacity, he oversees student support programs designed to improve student achievement rates in STEM for Hispanic and low-income students. Prior

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Anjali Mulchandani University of New Mexico Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Anjali Mulchandani is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering at the University of New Mexico. She leads the Environmental Resource Sustainability group, which studies themes related to environmental and water resources engineering, atmospheric water harvesting, waste-to-energy technologies, and environmental remediation. Her work integrates and highlights science communication and community needs-based research. Her passions include designing hands-on learning tools and leading public outreach initiatives for STEM awareness and engagement among all levels of learners.

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Early engagement in undergraduate research opportunities promotes improved critical thinking and scientific reasoning, increased academic performance, enhanced retention both within STEM majors and in college overall, and improved satisfaction with college. It is therefore critical to create pathways for early-stage college students to engage in undergraduate research. Transdisciplinary Grand Challenges programs at large public universities provide an opportunity to engage undergraduates in research that is directly tied to their community’s needs. The objective of this paper is to present the development and implementation of a science communication fellowship to engage early-stage undergraduate students in research. We created the Grand Challenge Water Science Communication Fellowship, in which students work with mentors (faculty, research scientists, graduate students) to create a communication project to educate the public on a water resources related issue that is currently being researched. The research used to produce the communication project can either be the student’s own or the research of their mentor. Students select their own communications venues (e.g., paintings, podcasts, videos, infographics) and work individually with their mentor and together as a cohort to develop and refine their individual projects. The projects are presented at the end of the semester-long fellowship program at the University’s Undergraduate Research Conference, which is open to the public. Participating students and mentors represent a wide variety of backgrounds, including biology, physics, environmental engineering, mechanical engineering, economics, environmental science, and geography. Several tangible benefits were seen for both students and mentors in the program’s first year. Students formed an active multidisciplinary cohort that created a sense of belonging to the university; most of the students are now working in the research lab of their mentor; and students from the prior year’s cohort and organizing and mentoring the next year’s cohort. Research mentors have obtained broader visibility of their research by using the produced communications pieces in grant proposals, research papers, presentations, websites, and other public avenues for knowledge sharing. In the second year of the program, we now aim to use qualitative and quantitative surveys to understand if participation in the program increases students’ self-efficacy and research identity. Survey questions ask students to evaluate aspects such as, how active their role was in planning the project, sense of responsibility for project progress, sense of belonging to a community of researchers, and intention to persist in a research experience. Results will be used to scale this opportunity and create similar communication fellowships for other Grand Challenges and disciplinary programs at the university.

Donohue, S., & Zachek, K. G., & Webster, A., & Schroeder, T. L., & Mulchandani, A. (2023, June), Engaging early-stage undergraduate students in research through a Science Communication Fellowship Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore , Maryland. 10.18260/1-2--43310

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