Southern California Ecosystems Research Program: A year-round program fostering undergraduate marine ecology research

Jennifer Burnaford and William J Hoese, California State University Fullerton, Biological Science, Fullerton, CA, United States
The Southern California Ecosystems Research Program (SCERP) is a two-year undergraduate research-training program that fosters participation of minority and urban-raised students in undergraduate research in ecology with an emphasis in Marine Ecology. Scholars start with a 5-week intensive summer field-research course in cohorts of 5-6, and progress to independent academic-year research with faculty mentors in the Department of Biological Science. Second-year scholars return as summer peer-mentors for the new scholars. This promotes group cohesion and develops leadership skills in continuing scholars. Over the course of two years, each student participates in five original research projects: four short-term group projects and one long-term independent project; scholars present each project at a scientific meeting. During the academic year, scholars enroll in weekly professional development seminars led by SCERP faculty. Our core goal is to train students to be independent researchers, while cultivating written and oral communication and critical thinking skills, guiding them to develop a research ethic that prepares them for graduate study and future careers. We remain connected with our former scholars; over 90% of SCERP graduates (N=83) are employed in biology-related careers. We have been particularly successful at placing students in M.S. (32), Ph.D. (11), and single-subject teaching credential (5) programs. Established in 2002 with support from the NSF that ran until 2016, SCERP currently operates with support from philanthropic donations, private foundations, and the university. SCERP engages advanced students in research, prepares scholars for graduate school and future careers in biology, and creates a community of scholars that remain connected to the program and CSUF Biology.