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Engaging Students in Authentic Research in Introductory Chemistry and Biology Laboratories

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies: Laboratory Pedagogy

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Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

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Paper Authors


Julianne Vernon University of Michigan

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Julianne Vernon is a Research Program Officer at the University of Michigan, the College of Literature, Science, and Arts where she is coordinating the implementation of faculty led research projects into introductory chemistry and biology lab courses. She received her bachelors of engineering in chemical engineering from the City College of New York and her doctorate degree at University of Florida in Environmental Engineering. She has experience developing international and national research experience for STEM majors.

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Deborah E. Goldberg University of Michigan

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Deborah Goldberg received her B.A. from Barnard College in 1975 and her Ph.D. from the University of Arizona in 1980 and has been on the faculty at the University of Michigan since 1983, where she is the Elzada U. Clover Collegiate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Goldberg’s research focuses on the processes that underlie patterns in plant community dynamics, structure, and function and their response to global change drivers, including climate change, nutrient deposition, and invasive species. She also serves as the Faculty Co-Director of the M-STEM Academies to increase the retention of under-represented groups in STEM disciplines.

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John P. Wolfe University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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John P. Wolfe received his B.A. degree in Chemistry from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 1994 and his Ph.D. degree in 1999 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under the guidance of Professor Stephen L. Buchwald. He carried out postdoctoral research under the supervision of Professor Larry E. Overman at the University of California, Irvine, prior to joining the faculty at the University of Michigan in July, 2002, where he is currently an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Chemistry, and the Associate Chair for Undergraduate Education in the Department of Chemistry. Professor Wolfe’s current research is directed towards the development of new palladium-catalyzed reactions for the stereoselective synthesis of carbocycles and heterocycles that are common subunits in biologically active natural products.

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Engaging students in research early on in the college experience may help reduce the number of students who drop out of STEM after experiencing one of the gateway courses, such as the introductory laboratory courses. Introductory laboratory courses have been seen as huge hurdles or just a sour experience that leaves students with little to no confidence in continuing in a STEM field. Additionally, typical introductory laboratories do not show students the nature of scientific careers, the application of science in everyday life, and how science is interdisciplinary. Undergraduate research programs, like UROP at our institution have been successful at engaging students early on in their academic life in research based experiences. However, scaling up has been difficult. One approach is incorporating authentic research experiences into the course curriculum, specifically introductory laboratory courses.

Authentic Research Connection (ARC), funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at our institution is bringing faculty-led research projects into two of the largest introductory science laboratories, introductory biology and introductory chemistry, that together enroll approximately 3500 students each year. Traditionally introductory chemistry and biology laboratories have been widely “cookbook” and “cookie cutter” laboratories where the outcome of each experiment is known. Faculty members involved in ARC design a semester-long research project that builds on and adds to ongoing research in their laboratory. The ARC model includes a postdoc, graduate students, and undergraduate students from the faculty research laboratory. Current faculty-led research projects include studies of the human microbiome (effects of diet on composition and functioning of the gut microbiome), studies of solar energy conversion technology (comparisons of efficiency of solar cells incorporating different metals) and studies of snow chemistry and climate change (how does salt incursion change reflective properties of snow and therefore feedback to climate change).

Preliminary assessment of the research sections consisted of a pre and post survey of students in control, non-research sections, and the intervention, research sections of ARC. The survey focuses on factors such as student’s attitude about science, confidence in doing lab based tasks, self-efficacy in science, student cohesiveness, and open-endedness. It was first piloted in control sections during summer 2015 and adjusted based on student interviews. We administered the pre-survey to 140 students in the research sections, and approximately 1700 students in control sections in September 2015. The post survey will be administered in December 2015. We hope to see in our preliminary data higher gains in students’ positive attitude towards science, confidence, and self-efficacy in science for the research sections when compared to the control. Longitudinal assessment over the next three to four years will show if these research-based laboratory experiences increase persistence in STEM by following student participants and controls all the way to graduation at our institution.

Vernon, J., & Goldberg, D. E., & Wolfe, J. P. (2016, June), Engaging Students in Authentic Research in Introductory Chemistry and Biology Laboratories Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26973

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