Factors that drive the development of an undergraduate research culture at a community college

James Hewlett
Professor of Biology
Finger Lakes Community College

The Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative (CCURI) is a national consortium of 142 community colleges dedicated to the development, implementation, and assessment of sustainable models for integrating an undergraduate research experience (URE) into a community college STEM curriculum. CCURI has developed a fully integrated model for embedding undergraduate research at a community college, and through a series of professional development workshops has helped network partners produce comprehensive strategic plans for expanding opportunities for their students to engage in a URE. While all CCURI institutions are provided an identical suite of resources and supports, not all network partners have developed a sustainable undergraduate research culture at either the departmental or institutional level. CCURI has been focused on two primary research questions: (1) How does an institution move from a culture of “no research” to a culture of “research as the norm,” with research as an integral part of the student experience? and (2) What factors promote or constrain culture change from “no research” to “research as the norm?” Institutions invited to participate in the study were assigned to one of three clusters situated along a spectrum of “no research” to “research as the norm.” Institutions were assigned to clusters based on the number of faculty, students, and disciplines involved in undergraduate research (UR); the presence of outside funding; the delivery of UR presentations outside of CCURI events; active engagement in external collaborations (networks); and whether an IRB and IACUC were operating on their campuses. Categories were created within each of the factors and assigned points. The summed points were used to assign institutions to a specific cluster. Cluster data was culled from a variety of sources, including a self-assessment survey administered at a CCURI conference, an annual partner reporting form, and institutional profile data collected by the CCURI management team. Preliminary results suggest that the critical promoters of culture change are associated with top down drivers such as institutional strategic planning, the level of engagement with research networks and scientific disciplinary societies, and the employment of embedded Course based models (CUREs). To better understand the extent to which these factors influenced the development of a research culture, CCURI developed a structured interview and focus group study from a subsample of partners from each of the clusters. Responses were coded for analysis and aligned with the initial assignment to a specific cluster.