Research Aligned Mentorships and the New Generation of Students
November 18–19, 2016
Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College
Farmingdale State College is honored to have received a highly competitive “First in the World” $2.9 million grant in 2015 from the U.S. Department of Education. With that award, we have created our Research Aligned Mentorship (RAM) program that welcomes 250 “high need” (minority, low-income, 1st-generation, and/or adult learner) students each fall through 2020. Our goal is to increase significantly 4-year graduation rates. The most innovative aspect of the RAM program is the placement of students in mentored research experiences both on and off campus (in national laboratories, research universities, businesses, etc.) in the summer after their sophomore year.
Adapting a Successful Model to Farmingdale State College and Partnering with Institutions
The foundational principles of the Farmingdale program are drawn from a proven approach: UCLA’s Program for Excellence in Education and Research in the Sciences (PEERS) (Hasson, 2015). PEERS features a carefully orchestrated 1st- and 2nd-year program for students that culminates in an intensive summer research experience with a faculty mentor. Recognizing that Farmingdale is not a selective Research I University like UCLA, we have modified the UCLA program to meet the needs of second tier public and private institutions such as FSC that educate the bulk of the “new generation of students” in the U.S. Specifically, we recognize that FSC does not have the monetary resources, caliber of students, or extensive research facilities and faculty that UCLA possesses. However, with innovative adaptation of the PEERS model, we are implementing distinctive interventions – including serious research experiences – that will markedly increase academic success and graduation rates of our target population of students. Our efforts have also begun to transform the campus culture, cultivating amongst faculty the expectation that they and their students will participate in mentored research and other forms of high impact mentored learning.
Farmingdale’s distinctive RAM program is especially important for other second and third tier public and private institutions, such as the Faculty Resource Network members, to watch. Over the next few years, FSC will provide a living case study of how to take a project that has worked for higher tier institutions and apply it anywhere.
In creating our pool of eligible students, we at Farmingdale expanded upon the UCLA model by extending beyond the STEM fields to include students majoring in business, professional communications, the social sciences, and visual arts.
But the core innovative adaptation of the Farmingdale model is this: Because Farmingdale State College lacks major research facilities on its own campus, adapting UCLA’s program required FSC to establish partnerships with a range of other research institutions. The RAM Program procured 21 letters of commitment from research I universities, businesses, laboratories, and organizations in the NYC area that have agreed to invite Farmingdale’s researching faculty and students into their spaces. These include opportunities at the American Museum of Natural History, Broad Hollow Bioscience Park, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Stony Brook University, the Feinstein Institute, Brookhaven National Laboratory, NYU Medical School, Queens Botanical Gardens, and Rutgers University. Additionally, regional business accelerators have committed to give students research experience in developing business and marketing plans and more. Farmingdale has also created its Mid-Atlantic Consortium (MAC), comprising Farmingdale and four similar institutions, to test the undergraduate research experience and model best practices for institutions across the country. Our partners in this consortium are Central Connecticut State University, Bowie State University, Kean University, and SUNY College at Old Westbury.
RAM Program Components
Inspired by the UCLA experience, Farmingdale’s Research-Aligned Mentorship program strives to elevate research as a valued, obtainable activity on our campuses and to affect the culture of Consortium colleges so that there is a cohesive message for faculty and students. The profile of research is raised through strengthening foundational courses with the kind of research and engaged pedagogy that employs project-based learning to develop critical thinking; through participation in collaborative learning experiences that emphasize problem-solving; through creating occasions on campus where researchers talk about their work and tell the stories of how they were first introduced to research and how mentors impacted their aspirations and choices; and through providing the knowledge and skills and counselors that help students understand the educational process, manage their time at the start, and later prepare for graduate school and careers. So, all RAM students at all five MAC institutions are required to participate in all of the program components listed here:
- Academic counselors meet with students twice per semester.
- Faculty advisors in the student’s major meet with students once per semester.
- Students are offered special events—such as social receptions, guest speakers, and seminars—as well as access to a digital archive of the events, including a YouTube channel.
- Students participate in Treisman-style collaborative learning workshops linked to difficult foundational courses such as mathematics.
- New RAM pedagogy features high-impact learning practices and project-based learning.
- Students engage in ongoing academic planning and self-reflection by using a “digital roadmap for college and beyond” called Covisery, designed by VanillaFrame LLC (http://www.ramcollegeroadmap.com)
- A first-year experience course and a sophomore/transfer experience course teaches students how to do research and apply to graduate school, while introducing them to career options.
Ultimately, however, one makes research lively and engaging by having students participate in hands-on research with faculty mentors, and then celebrating the students and their research accomplishments through annual poster sessions and recognitions.
We at the FSC RAM Program will enroll 1,000 students during our grant’s four years. The MAC partner schools will also enroll 400 students each in the program, to reach a total of 2,600 new generation students through 2020.
Keys to Success
The two keys to the program succeeding are:
- Ensuring that all activities are integrated and aligned, so that everything prepares students for a successful research experience and supports continued academic success, leading to them to graduation.
- Providing faculty development to support junior faculty who are eager to mentor students in research.
Farmingdale will train faculty to apply for administrative supplements for major grants, and by pairing faculty with scientists at major research institutions, we foresee that faculty will also have the opportunity to publish more as well. The grant includes funds for Farmingdale’s research partners, which should aid in follow-through and in placing students successfully in off-campus research settings.
It is we—the second or third tier publics and privates—who educate the bulk of America’s wondrous “new generation” of college students. We’re the ones who are going to make it or break it for our country’s ambitious completion goal. If we can take something that has been proven to be successful at a more elite school and refine it and implement it at our institutions and prove that it’s effective here, too, then Farmingdale’s Research Aligned Mentorship Program can be a model replicated by universities and colleges, public and private, across the country.
Toven-Lindsey, B., Levis-Fitzgerald, M., Barber, PH., & Hasson, T. (2015). Increasing persistence in undergraduate science majors: A model for institutional support of underrepresented students. CBE Life Sciences Education, 14(2).