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Environmental research to engage community college students
Community colleges are home to diverse populations of students. These students are often non-traditional students that have returned to school after many different experiences. Many of the students do not think of a community college degree as a gateway to engineering or other professional careers (Martin et al (2014) Community College Reviews). They view the community college as a technical training school that provides employment opportunities with a two-year degree. However, many of these students are capable and intrigued, but often intimidated, with the idea of receiving a four-year degree. In order to better serve the students that desire a four-year degree and to increase their knowledge of job opportunities with different four-year degrees, a research project was created between a university and a community college. The community college students take weekly water samples over the course of a summer project and test the water for biological and chemical components. This is the first time these students have been exposed to an open-ended laboratory without known results. The students complete the 8-week session by creating a poster that demonstrates research they have conducted on the history of their river’s contamination and the experimental results they found. The outcome of this project is to determine if open-ended laboratory experiences increase the students’ likelihood of obtaining a four-year degree in a STEM field. This assessment is ongoing with three years of data comparing student educational outcomes between those that participated in the summer project to students that completed a biology or chemistry course at the same community college. This in-progress work demonstrates engagement of a diverse group of students and career preparation in science or engineering. Perspectives from the university researcher, community college faculty member and a student on the project will be provided, exploring the full impact of the project.