The C-MORE Scholars Program: Motivations for an Academic-Year Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program

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Numerous studies have shown Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs to significantly and positively impact students' career paths. REU participants are more likely than nonparticipants to choose a research-oriented career (Kremer & Bringle, 1990) and attend graduate school (Hathaway, Nagda, & Gregerman, 2002). Kremer and Bringle (1990) also found that participants were more likely to be accepted at graduate schools that were highly rated in research productivity. A survey that asked students to comment on a checklist of potential gains received from their REU experience found that nearly three-quarters of all comments referenced increases in confidence (Seymour, Hunter, Laursen, & Deantoni, 2004), suggesting that increased confidence may be a key factor in pursuing graduate education. Lopatto (2004) found that 83% of participants surveyed began or continued to plan for graduate education, with no significant differences in gender or ethnicity. It is therefore not surprising that the National Science Foundation (NSF) Geoscience Education Working Group recommended that the GEO directorate expand its REU offerings, specifically citing their effectiveness in attracting minority students to science (NSF Directorate for Geosciences, 1997).

In this paper, we present a model for an academic-year REU program. The three-tiered, cohort-based program outlined is specifically targeted at underrepresented students, especially Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPI). An academic-year research project allows students more time to digest material, develop deeper research skills, draw connections with coursework, and build stronger networks with their peers and professors, all of which can sustain them throughout their undergraduate years. We describe how the program is aligned with best practices toward benefiting its participants (specifically cutting-edge research and professional development skills not typically shared in the classroom) and present evaluation results.

Overview of the C-MORE Scholars Program

Established in 2006, the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE) is a multi-institution NSF Science and Technology Center headquartered at the University of Hawaii at Manoa (UHM). C-MORE is dedicated to advancing the emerging field of microbial oceanography, and its areas of research include microbial biodiversity, metabolism, and energy flow; the role of microbes in climate variability; and ecosystem modeling. As the only Science and Technology Center based in Hawaii, C-MORE is uniquely positioned to provide cutting-edge research and educational opportunities to Hawaii's students, many of whom are ethnic minorities. Our approach is to offer a closely mentored, academic-year research experience with an underlying support structure to provide students with professional and academic support.

The C-MORE Scholars Program is based on the cohort model, enabling undergraduates to begin building collaborations and developing a peer-support group, which can be a critically important factor in student success. In a survey of entering freshmen, Bank, Slaving, and Biddle (1990) found that 58% rated the opinions of faculty members very important or extremely important during their first semester in college, whereas over 75% gave these two responses for peers and parents. During the second semester, students' perceptions changed such that only 45% rated the opinions of faculty members very important or extremely important, whereas over 70% still gave these two responses for peers and parents. Peer networks can be important for minority students, particularly those who lack professional role models. Several surveys of Latino college students have suggested that peer support can be even more important than family support (Rodriguez, Mira, Myers, & Cardoza, 2003).

The C-MORE Scholars Program especially aims to recruit underrepresented students into the five majors offered by the UHM's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST): global environmental science, oceanography, geology and geophysics, ocean engineering, and meteorology. …