Enhancing Community College STEM Education

This case study highlights the development of an undergraduate research initiative at a community college.


Research experiences at an early postsecondary educational stage are often pursued by students wanting to enhance their resumes and/or graduate school applications, enhance their laboratory skill sets, learn how scientists reason or expand their scientific literacy, or for a myriad of other reasons, both personal and professional.1–8 Unfortunately, laboratory-based research opportunities at community colleges have historically been exceedingly scarce. Since nearly one-half of all postsecondary graduates in the United States enroll in community colleges, this scarcity necessarily limits access to undergraduate research opportunities for a tremendous percentage of college undergraduates in the US.9 Programs such as the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative10 (CCURI) and several university-specific offerings have been instituted in an attempt to ameliorate this shortcoming, but much work remains to be done in this regard.11–13 This case study highlights the development of an undergraduate research initiative at a community college that may serve as a guide for others hoping to follow suit.

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Daniel Kainer, Ph.D., is director of the Biotechnology Institute at Lone Star College-Montgomery in Conroe, TX.

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7 Alexander BB, Lyons L, Pasch JE, Patterson J. Team approach in the first research experience for undergraduates in botony/zoology 152: Evaluation report. Madison, WI: University of Wisconson-Madison, LEAD Center, June 1996.
8 Manduca CA. Learning science through research: The Keck Geology Consortium undergraduate research program. Geotimes 1997;42(10):27–30.
9 Bailey T. Community Colleges in the 21st Century: Challenges and Opportunities. 2002. Available at: http://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/publications/community-colleges-21st-century.html (Last accessed August 2013).
10 Cejda BD. Hensel N. Undergraduate Research at Community Colleges. Washington, DC: Council on Undergraduate Research, 2009.
11 California State University – San Marcos. Summer Research Opportunities. Available at: www.csusm.edu/otres/summerprograms/ucsummeropps.pdf
12 Rice University. Nanotechnology Research Experience for Community College Students. Available at: http://cben.rice.edu/undergradprograms.aspx#NREU (Last accessed September 2013)
13 Pittalwala I. Community College Students Acquire Hands-on University Research Experience. 2013. Available at: http://ucrtoday.ucr.edu/12304 (Last accessed August 2013).

Industrial Biotechnology, published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., is a peer-reviewed bimonthly research journal focused on biobased industrial and environmental products and processes. The above article was first published in the October 2013 issue of Industrial Biotechnology with the title “Undergraduate Research: A Platform to Enhance Community College STEM Education”. The views expressed here are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of Industrial Biotechnology journal, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers, or their affiliates. No endorsement of any entity or technology is implied.