CUREnet will expand undergraduate research experiences

woman in lab with fish tank

zebrafish_funding.jpgDespite a nationwide emphasis on increasing the number of students entering science, technology, engineering and math fields, many leave the disciplines within their first two years. Now a group of institutions led by the University of Georgia will spearhead a new phase of development of a national network to support integration of research experiences into undergraduate life science lab courses.

The network, called "Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences Network," or CUREnet, was established to broaden the availability of research opportunities for students across the U.S.:

Supported by a new grant from the National Science Foundation, a large network of institutions, including other institutions in the University System of Georgia and a group of historically black colleges and universities across several states in the southeast and mid-Atlantic, will work with CUREnet to reinvent their life science lab courses to engage undergraduates in research at scale.

"There are many research-related careers that we need the workforce for here in the U.S., and if students don't even know that research exists, they don't know that it is an option for them career-wise," said Erin Dolan, Georgia Athletic Association Professor of Innovative Science Education in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and principal investigator on the new NSF grant.

"Research experiences can help support students in their early years in college while broadening their awareness of the career paths available to them in STEM fields and serving many more students than our current, traditional apprenticeship structure," she said.

The focus on introducing students to research-especially students who are the first in their families to attend college or whose families aren't scientists or researchers-is important for building success in the laboratory and after graduation, Dolan said.

"The idea of integrating research experiences into lab courses, where students are tackling a problem related to a faculty member's ongoing research, is they try out research as they learn," she said. "And if research appeals to them, they have a faculty member or a grad student or a postdoc working with the course who can help them find additional internships or other opportunities to do research that helps them make progress in their education and career path."

University research, laboratory and faculty resources are not distributed evenly between schools, universities or regions. But this network is a great example of how strengths can be leveraged to support those where the need is greatest, all the while allowing UGA and other R1s to better-fulfill our public service and outreach functions, as we attract future graduate students and help researchers on a broader scale. The brainchild of many dedicated scholars and locally of Dr. Dolan, CUREnet is a significant development in addressing one of the great forward challenges in higher education.