Enriching Undergraduate Education

Over the last 30 years the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) and Project Kaleidoscope  (PKAL) members designed studies, authored papers, and issued reports that together established undergraduate research as a “well-developed, well-understood, well-integrated and essential component of a quality college education.”* As part of National Undergraduate Research Week, CUR hosted a webinar to raise awareness of their new report, “Characteristics of Excellence in Undergraduate Research.”  Yes, that translates into the acronym COEUR.  The COEUR report is a compilation of data and best practices related to “highly effective undergraduate research environments” and is available to CUR members.  As regular readers of this blog know, CSUPERB agrees that undergraduate research is the “heart” of a quality biotechnology education.

Despite monographs like COEUR, participatory (or discovery-based) learning is not as integrated into the undergraduate college curriculum as we’d like.  50 minute lectures by instructors are still offered on our campuses, especially in first and second year “introductory courses.”  Over the last five years, CSUPERB faculty (many of whom are CUR and PKAL participants) organized workshops to educate biotechnology faculty and administrators about engaged learning, online platforms and tools for individual learning, and research-based courses.  At this year’s symposium we turned the conversation to issues, challenges and barriers that campuses face in trying to enrich science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) undergraduate education.  Almost 100 CSU and CCC faculty, administrators and invited speakers attended the symposium workshop. I am slow at publishing meeting reports, but here (finally) is the workshop report.

Hopefully the opinions and recommendations in this informal workshop report are useful to campuses evaluating undergraduate STEM education. The report is not all-inclusive – there are many issues, challenges and barriers the CSUPERB workshop participants did not have time to discuss (When are new STEM faculty educated about effective teaching and research on learning? during postdocs? during new faculty orientation?). Read the COEUR report – among many others – for more perspectives.

CUR is on the minds of many within CSUPERB for another reason.  For the last five years Elizabeth (Beth) Ambos has been an effective advocate for student and faculty researchers across the CSU in her role as Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research and Partnerships.  In May Beth is moving to Washington, D.C. to become Executive Director at CUR. She’s been a great friend, a steady counselor, a strategic thinker and a willing partner for over 30 (yes, I counted them!) CSUPERB projects. We can’t thank her enough for her support and encouragement. She will be greatly missed by me and the CSUPERB staff, faculty and administrators.  That said, it’s good to know she’ll have a “bully pulpit” from which to educate policy makers and faculty about the value and effectiveness of undergraduate research.


*MA Baenninger, Introduction, COEUR, Council on Undergraduate Research, 2012.

    This entry was posted in Opinion, STEM Education, Symposium and tagged , , , by Susan Baxter. Bookmark the permalink.

    About Susan Baxter

    I'm the executive director of CSUPERB and the editor of this blog. Over my career, I've worked with teams to formulate new herbicide products, to figure out how transcription factors work in combination, to discover protein targets for new diabetes treatments, and to develop software for human population genetics studies. I started a biotechnology career because a couple of companies in Richmond, Virginia, offered me summer internships. Since then I’ve worked in major corporations, small start-ups, research institutions and academia. Now I'm working with CSUPERB, funding promising CSU students and faculty, and supporting biotechnology education and research across the 23 CSU campuses. It is a personal mission of mine to smash the myth of "the right academic pedigree." Biotechnology changes so rapidly that it is extremely limiting to ask students to chart an exact career path, focus on a particular technique, or build a defined technical skill-set. My career advice? Stay agile by keeping your mind open, exploring your own interests, and working alongside excellent colleagues on hard problems.

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