P625: Supporting the academic success and developing the critical skills of community college students using undergraduate research and interdisciplinary learning communities
Being part of a community is important for supporting the short-term and long-term academic progress of students, especially those that attend community colleges. At Harold Washington College, we have used undergraduate research to engage students who are interested in STEM careers and baccalaureate STEM majors. These students are paired with community college faculty mentors and pursue an undergraduate research project during the academic year. Students are simultaneously enrolled in a research skills course, where they are given explicit instruction in important life skills such as working in teams, making effective presentations, and time management. As part of the course capstone, all students participate in a public poster session and present the results of their research. Our assessments have shown gains in students’ research skills, academic achievements, and attitudes towards further study in STEM. We have also observed that undergraduate research promotes and supports student transfer beyond the community college, and that it eases the shock of institutional transfer. To reach out to non-STEM students, we have developed classroom-based learning communities around contemporary topics in science, such as global climate change, environment of the Great Lakes, and science fiction literature. These learning communities always involve a chemistry faculty member team-teaching with one or more faculty members from other departments, and are geared towards developmental students who need one or more remedial courses. With this group of students, we have measured a greater degree of degree completion compared to their peer groups, although we have not observed a significant increase in the number of students completing science degrees.