Undergraduate research courses thrive at Fresno State

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Undergraduate research courses thrive at Fresno State

Exposing college students to research early on is a growing trend nationally that has become commonplace at Fresno State, where research opportunities for undergraduate students are plentiful thanks to initiatives like Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) in the College of Science and Mathematics.

study in 2018 found that undergraduate exposure to a rigorous research program leads to success in research-based STEM careers. The same study found that undergraduates who get a research experience are more likely to pursue a Ph.D. program and generate significantly more valued products compared to other students.

These types of courses, made possible by private financial support such as funds raised from Fresno State’s annual Day of Giving, introduce many undergraduate students to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and inspire some to pursue careers in related fields. Students get the chance to participate in high-impact educational practices, and the courses have been shown to enhance students’ technical and critical thinking as well as communication skills that are critical for the workforce, said Dr. Christopher Meyer, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at Fresno State.

“Society needs doctors, scientists, chemists, physicists, things like that to keep progressing in medicine and technology,” said Steven Loa, a biology student at Fresno State. “CUREs are the way to get students interested in those fields — not at the senior level, not at the graduate level, not at the Ph.D. level, but right from the beginning as an undergraduate.” 

These experiences redesign course-based laboratory work in chemistry and biology to engage students in addressing common and diverse research questions. CUREs support those who have little research experience, including underrepresented minorities and first-generation students. 

“CUREs can serve as a mechanism to really democratize undergraduate research by providing opportunities to students who would not otherwise be able to participate,” said Dr. Tricia Van Laar, an assistant professor in the Biology Department. “Many students have outside employment or family commitments or any other number of reasons they are not able to work in a mentor’s laboratory. By doing a research project in one of their regularly scheduled courses, these students do not miss out on this critical opportunity.”

Biology graduate student Joee Denis said, “The CUREs courses have influenced me to pursue my masters and research as my career goal. It has provided me with the opportunity to be a lab instructor, and that has influenced me to consider being a professor.” 

The College of Science and Mathematics relies on private financial support, such as funds raised from Fresno State’s annual Day of Giving, to support student success initiatives like Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences. For questions about how to support the College of Science and Mathematics, contact Javier Morales at 559.278.0453 or javierm@mail.fresnostate.edu.

Fresno State’s third annual 24-hour, online Day of Giving will be Thursday, Nov. 7. Each gift on this day, no matter how large or small, will directly support student success. Visit dayofgiving.fresnostate.edu to learn more.

(Story by Selene Kinder, communications specialist in the College of Science and Mathematics)