A low-intensity, hybrid design between a “traditional” and a “course-based” research experience yields positive outcomes for science undergraduate freshmen and shows potential for large-scale application

Thushani Rodrigo-Peiris, Lin Xiang, Vincent M. Cassone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Based on positive student outcomes, providing research experiences from early undergraduate years is recommended for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors. To this end, we designed a novel research experience called the “STEMCats Research Experience” (SRE) for a cohort of 119 second-semester freshmen with diverse college preparatory levels, demographics, and academic majors. The SRE targeted student outcomes of enhancing retention in STEM majors, STEM competency development, and STEM academic performance. It was designed as a hybrid of features from apprenticeship- based traditional undergraduate research experience and course-based undergraduate research experience designs, considering five factors: 1) an authentic research experience, 2) a supportive environment, 3) current and future needs for scale, 4) student characteristics and circumstances, and 5) availability and sustainability of institutional resources. Emerging concepts for facilitating and assessing student success and STEM curriculum effectiveness were integrated into the SRE design and outcomes evaluation. Here, we report the efficient and broadly applicable SRE design and, based on the analysis of institutional data and student perceptions, promising student outcomes from its first iteration. Potential improvements for the SRE design and future research directions are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberar53
JournalCBE Life Sciences Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Aaron Vaught for compiling institutional data, R. Joseph Waddington for suggestions on data analysis, and Margaret DiGirolamo for help with organizing data. We also thank the research advisors and their laboratory personnel for conducting SRE sections. This work was supported by an HHMI Sustaining Excellence-2014 grant (#52008116) awarded to the UK (V.M.C., principal investigator). The content and views expressed in this paper are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the granting agency or the UK. This study was reviewed and approved by the UK Institutional Review Board (protocol 15-1089-P4S).

Funding Information:
Supported by a 5-year grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), in the 2014–2015 academic year, we initiated a freshman success–targeted program called the STEM-Cats program at the University of Kentucky (UK), with the main goals of enhancing student retention in STEM majors, 21st-century STEM competency development, and STEM academic performance across all participating students. This paper details 1) the research experience that was designed to engage the STEMCats students (henceforth referred to as the “STEMCats Research Experience” [SRE]), emphasizing on its design features; 2) the outcomes toward the main STEMCats program goals, evaluated via institutional data analyses and supporting student perceptions for its first iteration in the Spring 2015 semester; and 3) future strategies based on experiences and outcomes of this iteration.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, The American Society for Cell Biology. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)


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