332 Teaching through Research: Broadening Undergraduate Research Opportunities at the University of Texas at Austin

Thursday, November 5, 2009: 3:40 PM
Charolais (Camino Real Hotel)
Ruth I. Shear , Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Sarah L. Simmons , College of Natural Sciences, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Andrew D. Ellington , Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Scott W. Stevens , Section of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Mary Ann Rankin , College of Natural Sciences, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
At large research institutions, undergraduate students typically first pursue research opportunities as upper-division students. Since 1995, the College of Natural Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin has provided summer research fellowships to undergraduates working with faculty. Several of our programs had, as one of their major goals, the participation of underrepresented gender and ethnic groups in research. However, traditional risk groups in the sciences typically show low participation rates in undergraduate research. The Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) provides early research experiences aligned with student degree plans and uses cutting-edge faculty research amenable to large-scale freshman training and experimentation, allowing students to gain experience in a broad range of techniques in a specific research field. Each year, freshmen are recruited into an intensive eighteen-month set of courses that incorporate critical thinking, interaction with faculty, hands-on experimentation, data interpretation, student presentation, publication and peer mentoring. Afterwards, students can be matched with individual faculty laboratories or placed in industry internships. Fully implemented, FRI serves 25% of each incoming class (500 students/year) in the College of Natural Sciences. Our program has significantly increased the percentage of underrepresented students willing to try research, the first step in loading a pipeline for a diverse pool of candidates for advanced projects and opportunities. Students exposed to early research experiences exhibit higher retention rates (seen across all risk groups), and continue on to further undergraduate research experiences and to graduate school at higher rates than our comparison groups.