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The W.E.B. Du Bois Faculty Student Research Experience

*This program is no longer active, but this webpage serves as an archive for program. Students interested in research opportunities should speak with their academic advisors.

In 2014, FSC initiated a pilot undergraduate research program entitled, The W.E.B. Du Bois Faculty-Student Research Experience to fund an initiative in which students will work with faculty on research. Our project aimed to overcome a longstanding problem with UR programs by recruiting students who have generally been marginalized from these projects, such as students from lower socio-economic positions, and underrepresented groups such as: African Americans, Hispanics, women, and people with disabilities.

Background

At FSC, our faculty mentor students working on research projects for coursework on a regular basis. However, we aimed to encourage the opposite relationship—that is—students assisting faculty with their research endeavors. There is an extensive body of scholarly literature that has documented the benefits of students working with faculty on research. Students learn: specific content-based knowledge, applied research skills and techniques, problem solving skills, and effective oral and written communication skills. Thus the skills learned through this experience aid in students’ overall professional development. Given SUNY’s commitment to high graduation rates, and timely completion, it is noteworthy that research has also shown that student involvement in Undergraduate Research (UR) programs is correlated with higher retention rates, higher grades, and higher graduation rates because this experience helps students bond with the institution (Nagda et al., 1998; Rayman & Brett, 1995; Sax, 1994; Verity et al., 2002).

With respect to retention and graduation rates, this project specifically aimed to tackle the quagmire related to retention amongst our minority students. Research has clearly shown that participation in such programs by students from typically underrepresented groups increased connection to academic departments and the institution. Moreover, for this population, rigorous engagement in UR with a faculty mentor is positively correlated with improvement in student grades, retention rates, persistence to graduation, and motivation to pursue and succeed in graduate school (e.g., Shiyama & Hopkins, 2002; Barlow, Villarejo, 2004; National Research Council, 2003; Kuh, et al., 2007). Unfortunately, minority student participation in UR programs nationally remains woefully low.

At FSC, and SUNY more broadly, we want students, particularly our minority students, to leave our institution feeling empowered, and knowing that they attended a college that was invested in ensuring their success. As noted above, according to Kuh et. al (2005) students who participated in UR programs, considered the experience they had working alongside a faculty member the highlight of their undergraduate experience. No doubt then, this is an experience we want for all our students, particularly for those students, who because of the persistence of discrimination in our society, might have had negative experiences in educational institutions. Those negative experiences may have minimized their overall satisfaction with the collegiate academic experience.

Our Program

The W.E.B Du Bois Faculty Student Research Experience was funded by a SUNY Explorations in Diversity and Academic Excellence grant. The yearlong program supported students and faculty while they collaborated on research. In September 2014, we launched the program. Student applications were solicited from students in the FSC Academic Student Achievement Program (now known as TRiO Student Support Services). The program was designed to serve students who are first-generation college students, from low socio-economic backgrounds, and students with disabilities. TRiO provides extraordinary support to this cohort of students. Faculty applicants, once selected were paired with selected applicants from TRiO. Of the 10 students selected, 6 were African American, 1 of the African Americans was a person with disabilities, 1 student was Hispanic, 2 were white women, and 1 was a Pacific Islander.

In the fall semester, the students were prepared for their work as student research assistants. First, the students received a library research training course. This course introduced students to scholarly research and gave them hands-on experience acquiring scholarly materials using various databases and library resources. In this process, they were able to meet and build rapport with FSC’s librarians. Second, the students were given a class on conducting research with human subjects, research ethics, and the importance of Institutional Review Boards. Finally, all students received individualized training by their faculty mentors.

In the fall, once training was completed, students began work by assisting faculty with literature reviews and other tasks assigned by the faculty member. By the spring, the students were working one-on-one with their faculty mentor, and carrying out various research tasks, such as: traveling to a research library in NYC, traveling with a faculty member to a historical archive, and working on data analysis, among other project tasks. The spring semester was devoted to research and the preparation of results.

The W.E.B Du Bois Faculty Student Research Program hosted a conference on April 24, 2015 at Farmingdale State College. The conference was a culmination of all the hard work of the faculty and students who participated in this pilot UR program. In the morning, attendees walked through the student poster session and spoke with students about their research projects. Following the poster session, each guest, (approximately 70) attended one of two breakout sessions. In these oral presentations, faculty and the student research assistants delivered PowerPoint presentations about their research together. After a luncheon, there was a keynote address by Dr. Timothy Paglione.

Assessment and Evaluation

Assessment of the program was ongoing. The directors met regularly with faculty and students to provide them with support and monitor progress. At the conclusion of the program, the directors implemented various assessment tools to evaluate the success and limitations of the program. Three exit surveys were administered. Student and faculty participants in the pilot program were given separate web-based surveys, which were approved by the FSC Institutional Review Board. Conference participants also received a web-based survey asking them for feedback about the conference. Finally, the directors met with the participants individually and conducted non-structured exit interviews.

Overall, the program was successful. First, the research skills classes organized by the directors were beneficial for the students. All students who participated learned basic research skills, how to conduct scholarly library research, and how to create literature reviews. In addition, the students left the program with a certificate for completing the NIH training in Research with Human Subjects.

The student participants had a rewarding intellectual experience. They learned specific content-based knowledge, applied research skills and techniques, problem solving skills, and effective oral and written communication skills. The original proposal also highlighted the importance of creating programs that help students, particularly, minority students bond with their institution, faculty, and other students. It is noteworthy that the students who participated explained that the experience helped them to bond with their faculty member and the institution as a whole. In fact, some of the students have declared that their faculty partner will continue to serve as a mentor as they move forward in their studies.

All the students who participated presented their own poster presentation at the FSC conference. In addition, they co-presented with their faculty mentor at the conference during panel sessions, as well. This preparation has aided their professional development. In addition to this conference, the program supported two students who presented at national conferences. One of those students won second prize for his poster at another conference. In addition, another research team co-authored a paper together.

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