Undergraduate Research in STEM during the First Two Years of College Education: A Formula for All.

Guillermo Alvarez Pardo
Mathematics Professor
Cuesta College

Embracing the NSF IUSE theme of institutional and community transformation, Cuesta College leveraged its award to develop a research culture at the community college. STEM faculty at Cuesta College developed undergraduate research experiences (UREs) for STEM students, fulfilling a critical role at two-year colleges. Providing access to UREs while students are in their first two years of college is an effective way to enhance a student’s persistence in STEM fields and validate their identity as a scientist. Initial grant implementation focused on faculty recruitment leading to the development of research opportunities in a range of STEM disciplines (Anthropology, Biology, Engineering, GIS and Mathematics). These faculty innovators investigated best practices in UREs, identified barriers to URE development and implementation, developed UREs, recruited students, and promoted awareness of the important role undergraduate research plays across campus. Faculty also sought to evaluate student interest in and perception of UREs, identify barriers to student success, and received training to become more effective mentors. To unify STEM undergraduates and cultivate a research community on campus, faculty also developed and now co-teach an interdisciplinary undergraduate STEM seminar. Student participants in the inaugural course gained invaluable exposure to STEM career possibilities, URE offerings, internships, and developed hard and soft skills to be successful in STEM. Since the grant began, hundreds of students have participated in UREs as part of independent research projects, course based undergraduate research experiences, and during study abroad. Several student researchers have already presented their research findings at conferences. As the grant enters its final stages, faculty continue to evaluate the success of its growing research program and track student progress after completion of UREs. Cuesta College faculty continue to work with campus colleagues in STEM and social sciences to identify more faculty researchers, develop and promote additional student research experiences, and strengthen the research culture at Cuesta College. This work enhances retention and success for undergraduate STEM students seeking to transfer to four-year schools, build skills, and join the workforce. The project also serves as an effective model for other faculty and two-year colleges interested in designing or expanding UREs to better support this underrepresented student population.


All are at Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo, CA: Laurie McConnico, Jason Curtis, Kristina Vastine, Guillermo Alvarez Pardo, Silvio Favoreto, Jr., Jeffery Jones, Eltahry Elghandour, Lise Mifsud, Feride Schroeder, Katherine Dittmer