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California State University Seeks Ways to Integrate Research Into Undergraduate Learning Across the System

Nine campuses chosen to focus on research programs for undergraduates in science, technology, engineering and math

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(February 3, 2011) - Whether at a field site or a lab bench, the chance to conduct research, many California State University students would say, is a game-changer - much to their advantage - when it comes to earning a degree.

The experiences, they say, can ignite a passion, build and reinforce confidence and keep them on track for graduation.

To varying degrees throughout the CSU’s 23 campuses, undergraduate learning is infused with the challenges of pursuing a hypothesis down a rigorous line of research. As the CSU works to improve and expand those efforts, nine of the system’s campuses will participate in a workshop designed to help faculty and administrators “institutionalize” the approach. 

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) developed the initiative, and the CSU was one of three higher education systems nationwide chosen to participate. The CSU consortium includes San Marcos, Pomona, Monterey Bay, San Luis Obispo, East Bay, Stanislaus, Channel Islands, Los Angeles and Bakersfield.

According to CSU Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer Ephraim P. Smith, "As the largest public baccalaureate degree-granting system in the country, CSU is committed to educating more students to enter careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics – or STEM – fields.  We know that undergraduate research is a proven strategy to increase student retention, graduation and success. It can be particularly effective for groups who are underrepresented in STEM."

Track progress, link efforts, build models
The workshop will emphasize connecting current undergraduate research activities across campuses, developing databases to track students’ progress, building undergraduate research into faculty workload and identifying a curriculum model that would provide every undergraduate access to research opportunities. The CSU will also investigate ways to improve its use of social networking and other digital pathways to connect CSU faculty interested in bringing research experiences to their students.

The workshop will be at California State University, Los Angeles in October 2011.

Overseeing the CSU’s involvement are Elizabeth L. Ambos, assistant vice chancellor for research initiatives and partnerships;  Judy Botelho, director for the CSU Center for Community Engagement; Cynthia Desrochers, director of CSU Institute for Teaching and Learning; and Ken O’Donnell, associate dean of academic programs and policy.

A natural progression for CSU
The move to "institutionalize" is a natural progression for the CSU given the evolution of the system’s development of undergraduate research experiences:

  • On many CSU campuses, long-established programs funded by NSF and the National Institutes of Health provide students intense research experiences, bolstering the recruitment and advancement of Hispanic, African American and other groups of undergraduates who are underrepresented in STEM.
  • In its 2008 strategic plan "Access to Excellence," the CSU cites undergraduate research as a key “active learning” strategy – particularly when it is applied to key economic, civic and community needs.

CSU officials expect the workshop next fall to help the system take the following steps:

  • Quantify the impact of undergraduate research on student access, retention, graduation and success in STEM.
  • Identify comprehensive and cost-effective ways to help embed undergraduate research experiences into the undergraduate curriculum.
  • Develop strategies to build and strengthen connections between individual undergraduate research programs on CSU’s campuses.

Enhancing education, job creation
"The CSU was selected from a highly competitive process to participate," said CUR Executive Officer Nancy Hensel. "In addition to enhancing the academic experience for thousands of students, undergraduate research can also lead to innovation, discovery, economic development and job creation."

To Mitch Malachowski, a University of San Diego chemistry professor and a leader on the CUR project, undergraduate research is transformative.

"It helps move students from studying a subject to becoming a practitioner in their field," he said, "and it has a deep impact on student learning."


About the California State University
The California State University is the largest system of senior higher education in the country, with 23 campuses, approximately 412,000 students year round and 43,000 faculty and staff. Since the system was created in 1961, it has awarded nearly 2.5 million degrees, about 90,000 annually. The CSU is renowned for the quality of its teaching and for the job-ready graduates it produces. A recent economic report found that the CSU supports more than 150,000 jobs statewide, annually. The engine driving job creation is more than $17 billion in economic activity that directly results from CSU-related spending that generates $5.43 for every dollar the state invests. The mission of the CSU is to provide high-quality, affordable education to meet the ever-changing needs of the people of California. With its commitment to excellence, diversity and innovation, the CSU is the university system that is working for California.

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