What are New Paradigms for Undergraduate Research?

Ray Turner, Roxbury Community College (Boston)
Session number: 5

Several years ago, we introduced two transforming programs to Roxbury Community College, an urban college with a large population of African American students. While one program focused on the introduction of undergraduate research to upper-level community college students, the other dealt with improving the skills of entry-level students. Close to one third of our students at Roxbury Community College go on to pursue science related careers as a direct result of this dual philosophy. However, we have not produced any chemistry majors. This is in spite of the fact that in a given semester over one hundred students are enrolled in general chemistry courses. In general, the problem appears to be a lack of relevance of the subject matter to students already turned off to chemistry.

In an attempt to address this disparity, we propose to use low cost "culturally relevant" research to attract minority students to careers in environmental chemistry. We believe that this approach may be the magic bullet needed to increase participation and boost interest among potential science majors. In addition, we are using our newly funded "Technology Hub" to link K-12 schools to Roxbury Community College. More recently, our site has been targeted to receive additional funds to convert our Media Center to a Technology and Instructional Multimedia Satellite Center (TIMS). The Center, originally proposed as a link to community sites for the purpose of creating virtual campuses, will be used to create "virtual laboratory bench space" at city schools with resources made available through a multi-institutional collaboration.

The coupling of low cost, scientifically sound "culturally relevant" research projects with media technology will give students two advantages. These are "hands on" experience and the participation in a virtual learning community with unlimited resources. The "what's in my back yard?" approach to science exploration using plants grown in soil, seem to have all the elements of chemistry involved. For instance, the use of inexpensive electrodes, which we obtained from a junkyard, can be used to study the effects of AC and DC current on lead uptake into plants. In this experiment alone, student can learn Electrochemistry and Analytical Chemistry. Participants from linked sites could function as members of an expanded research group producing large amounts of data and examining different aspects of a shared research project. Students who are members of this community participate at levels appropriate for them. It is hoped that these students, at the very least, will earn their undergraduate degrees in chemistry. It is our belief that with chemistry as an undergraduate degree, student may branch into other areas of science. This project may be model for other regions of the country. A Multi-Institutional Program Director will coordinate research activities between sites and participate in Web-based and satellite-based site communications. Everyone in the learning community will be a contributor to the end results.

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Last Update: 10 November 1999