Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Undergraduate Research Lab

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Undergraduate Research Lab

Article excerpt

Picture a research lab, and the first image that comes to mind is a university setting with graduate students dedicating years of their lives to research. This is the more likely setting for such a lab, but not at Miami Dade College (MDC), where undergraduate students are pursuing projects that might one day benefit the average citizen.

From a mobile phone app that helps detect cancer to one that can be used as a hearing aid to an application that will make it easier for a colorblind person to decode a resistor, students within MDC s School of Engineering and Technology' are conducting research that is making its way into academic conferences and publications.

These students have played an integral part of the school's computing research lab, which was started in 2010 with a grant from the National Science Foundation to recruit, retain, and advance underrepresented students at Hispanic-Serving Institutions in engineering and. computing careers.

"What we are trying to do is level the playing field to make sure the engineering and information technology fields have equal representation of all people," said Dr. Miguel Alonso, chair of MDC's School of Engineering and Technology. Alonso wrote the original grant for the lab in conjunction with the Computing Alliance for Hispanic-Serving Institutions (CAHSI), an organization of 10 schools that aims to increase the number of Hispiinics in the computing professoriate or workforce, improve the retention and graduation of Hispanics in this field, and. promote and sustain academic and research programs at Hispanic- Serving Institutions. MDC is the only college in the alliance, and was the only one without a research lab.

"I wanted to bring undergraduate research to the college since there wasn't any undergraduate research here at the time," said Dr. Alonso. "Undergraduate students are capable of doing very high quality research, but a lot of people don't give them enough credit."

The School of Engineering and Technology, which houses the lab, is based at the Wolfson Campus, one of eight campuses of Miami Dade College, the largest and most diverse college in the nation, serving more than 170,000 students. With 70 percent of its students coming from Hispanic backgrounds, it should come as no surprise that almost all of the students working in the lab are Hispanic. The environment provides these students - who arc underrepresented in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) - a chance to get a leg up in their education.

"It is not uncommon for universities with graduate schools to have some undergraduate research labs. But for teaching colleges like us, this is not at all common," said Dr. Alonso. "Since we don't have a graduate school, it was hard to convince folks that we could do research. But because of the lab, I demonstrated, even to this college, that research is possible. And now we've seen the school build research experiences for undergraduates in all the STEM disciplines."

About five or six students each semester work in the lab, a number that might seem small, but has its impact on others throughout the college. ''These students in the lab take classes with other students and therefore raise the bar on what is possible for them," said Alonso.

The research grant supports students in finding a particular problem they wish to focus on, and then conducting research in this area. They publish their work, submit and present conférence papers, and send out posters and abstracts that often get accepted. …

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