REU Programs at Field Research Stations Offer Unique Advantages that may Enhance Retention of Students in STEM Fields.
Abstract:Studies have shown that undergraduate participation in research opportunities strengthens the retention of students in STEM fields. Increasing students’ confidence levels in their scientific abilities, aiding in the development of their scientific identity, and strengthening their sense of belonging to a scientific community have been cited as important contributing factors. Research field stations offer unique advantages that amplify these benefits by challenging students to plan and work in the field, enhancing networking opportunities with multi-disciplinary professionals from numerous institutions and hierarchical levels, and creating a stronger sense of belonging and comradery within a science community.
The USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies’ (WIES) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program is an 8-week program that begins on the main USC campus in Los Angeles and moves to a marine field station on Catalina Island during weeks 2-7, before returning to the mainland to complete the last week of the program. This unique model provides REU students with an opportunity to become integrated into faculty mentors’ labs on the main campus, while exposing them to life as a researcher at a field station, both of which contribute significantly to the students’ development as a scientist. Here, we present the WIES REU model and include a discussion of benefits and challenges to this unique infrastructure.