TitleEarly Undergraduate Research Experiences Request Date2012-11-30
DepartmentChemistry and Biochemsityr
RequestorTrevor Douglas Phone406-994-6566
Campuses Bozeman Billings Havre Great Falls FSTS Extension MAES
Cross Depts civil engineering, chemistry and biochemistry, chemical and biological engineering, cell biology and neuroscience, earth science, industrial engineering, microbiology, mechanical engineering, mathematics, physics, psychology, plant sciences, university studies
Proposed Dates Start: August 15 2014 End: August 14 2015
A pilot program aimed at having undergraduate students participate in a meaningful research opportunity early in their studies is described. There is a strong connection between early research experiences and academic success. Moreover, introducing research opportunities early in the studentsí undergraduate experience will enable the students to fully integrate learning, discovery, and engagement. In the pilot, we propose to offer a position in an MSU faculty memberís lab to all Honors General Chemistry I students, with the goal of expanding this model in the future so that students in introductory STEM classes are engaged in research.
Undergraduate student researchers have time and again shown themselves to be fully capable of integrating into the lab culture and becoming productive researchers during their undergraduate careers. After earning their undergraduate degrees, a large percentage of these students thrive in prestigious graduate programs in research related studies. Thus, undergraduate researchers have a critical role in advancing the Learning portion of the strategic plan. Metric L.3.2 of increasing the percent of graduate pursuing an advanced degree should be positively impacted by this proposal.
Participation in a research group is so much more than just the research; it allows students to participate in a community of people who share their interest and passion and from whom they can learn. Undergraduate students in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry (these are the students for whom we have data) have an exceptionally strong commitment to outreach and community involvement. Once students feel part of their science community, they are enthusiastic participants in these wider community engagements, which enables us to meet several Engagement Objectives in the strategic plan. Specifically, Metric E.1.2 for increasing the number of students involved in outreach activities and Metric E.1.4 for giving all students an engagement experience will be likely to be fulfilled for students that are reached by this proposal.
Early research is critical for guiding students toward integration of learning, discovery, and engagement as described in the Integration section of the strategic plan. Indeed, it is difficult to understand how students are going to be able to successfully integrate learning, discovery, and engagement if the are not given early research opportunities. Metric I.1.4 of increasing the production of scholarly projects such as research publications will be positively impacted by this proposal. Although not directly mentioned in this proposal, the CHMY 291 Service Learning in Science is a course that students coming out of this program will be ideally suited to take. This course directly addresses Metric I.1.1 of all students having a substantial curricular experience that integrates learning, discovery, and engagement.
For the Access component of the strategic plan, we feel that providing research groups means that the students will immediately have a cohort of more advanced students plus a key STEM faculty advisor that they will be able to use as a resource for coursework tutoring and for mentorship as needed. This should make STEM programs more attractive to all students, including the minority students who are the target of the diversity objective A.2.
Funding Type: One-Time Only Funding Base (3-yr Recurring) Funding
  FY13 FY14 FY15 Base ($) OTO Startup ($)   FTE;
Salaries 34780             
Benefits 220             
Materials & Supplies              
Contracted Services              
Other Operations              
TOTAL 35000     
Please comment, if necessary, regarding cost and requirements.

Funds are requested for 70 students @ $500 per student

Because some students will probably qualify for work-study, the average cost per student might be less than $500, which is why we have budgeted for 70 students rather than the 80 students that we actually expect to enter this program.

Although we expect that students will complete this program by the end of the spring semester, we have requested that the funding period end date be at the end of the summer in case any extensions or other extenuating circumstances occur for any of the students.


Describe the Proposal


In the past, undergraduate students have been encouraged to enter research labs and become part of a research group in the summer following their freshman year (or later). However, this year Prof Ilse-Mari Lee and the Honors Program organized an innovative “Research Symposium” where researchers from all fields presented their work to the freshman honors students. The faculty came in on a Saturday to share their interests with the students, and the students spent two full Saturdays listening and getting inspired. As a result of this, a number of students have now joined research labs and are, after 2 months, active, engaged members of research teams.

In an effort to encourage more freshmen who have a research interest, we would like to see this symposium model expanded to include all interested students. In this way, undergraduate research can become a potential learning experience for all interested freshmen. We would like to see this new educational possibility become available for students who may have arrived at MSU from educationally underserved communities or are from underrepresented groups in the STEM fields. As a first step toward the goal of providing research opportunities for all interested students, we are proposing to provide research opportunities to all students in Honors General Chemistry I. These students will attend the Honors Program’s “Research Symposium” and then will be mentored into research labs as described below. We have focused on Honors General Chemistry students in this pilot program because there are a manageable number for a pilot program (80 students) and they represent a broad cross-section of students interested in STEM disciplines. This semester’s class includes students from twenty-two different major options including bioengineering, civil engineering, chemistry and biochemistry, chemical engineering (the largest cohort), cell biology and neuroscience, environmental science, earth science, industrial engineering, microbiology, mechanical engineering, mathematics, physics, pre-medical, pre-veterinary medicine, psychology, sustainable food and bioenergy systems, and university studies.

An integral part of this investment proposal is to establish and some monetarily reward this early participation in the research experience by undergraduates. If the students stay in their research project until the end of the fall semester, then they will be eligible to receive both university credit and a small stipend during their second semester of successful research. The Undergraduate Scholars Program, under the direction of Dr. Colin Shaw, will oversee the application process and the dissemination of funds for the students.

Describe the broader impacts and benefits of this proposal

We feel that MSU has an unprecedented opportunity to integrate a research experience for a much wider community of learners than is currently being served. Research shows that inquiry-based learning is the most effective method for teaching scientific concepts and encouraging high-level synthesis of knowledge. Students who participate in research experiences early in their freshman year will immediately have a cohort of older students, and a key faculty mentor, that they will be able to use as a resource for coursework tutoring and for mentorship as needed. This should serve as an aid for improving freshman retention and for improving the students’ grades. In addition, providing the freshmen with the opportunity to become part of a highly engaged research group should increase the attractiveness of STEM fields to minority students. The long-term goal of this program is to identify undergraduate students with outstanding potential (identified across a wide spectrum of indices), provide them with meaningful research opportunities and maintain their continued interest in science.  Engaging these students, particularly women and members of other under-represented groups, early in their undergraduate experience, may be a factor in preventing future attrition from science majors and careers. We expect that students who begin participating in research during their freshman year will be more likely to obtain prestigious scholarships such as the Goldwater Scholarship (for which research publications are very important).

For our graduate students, the opportunity to train and work with the freshmen researchers will better prepare them for jobs in both academia and industry, since they will be learning how to supervise and educate while they are helping the faculty research advisors with training of the new students in lab.

For our faculty, the opportunity to share the passion that we feel about scientific discovery with enthusiastic new students has immeasurably positive impacts.


Implementation Plan

As mentioned above, all students in Honors General Chemistry I will be invited to participate in the Honors Program’s “Research Symposium” in September of their freshman year. After participation in this event, and just after students have completed their first exam for Honors General Chemistry I (we want to give them a few weeks to adjust to college courses), students will be asked to write a brief (1 page) description of the areas of science that they find most interesting. These descriptions will be submitted to Prof. Trevor Douglas, who is the instructor for Honors General Chemistry I. A meeting will be held, with a broad invitation to attend for faculty in all of the departments in which students in the class are majoring (or any other departments that match the students research descriptions). Faculty will screen the applications at the meeting, and students will be presented with their research group “match”, which will be the closest possible match to areas in which the students have expressed interest. We have done this for 13 years to match summer research students with advisors in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Although the scale is smaller, the committee method for distribution works very well, which is why we feel that this method is appropriate for this cohort. More than one student may be assigned to a faculty research mentor if multiple students have interests in overlapping areas.

After learning which research group they have been placed in, students will meet with the research professor and will spend the remainder of the fall semester learning lab culture and procedure. By the end of the fall semester, students will have identified a specific research project to work on. 

Students who participate weekly in activities with their research group (as defined and overseen by their faculty research advisor) will be eligible to fill out an application to receive funding for their research in the spring semester. Dr. Colin Shaw, Director of the Undergraduate Scholars Program, will help Dr. Douglas with development and implementation of an appropriate application. Administrative staff in the USP office will oversee the submission process. The Honors Program will oversee formation of a committee to approve applications from this cohort, but all reasonable applications will be funded. Students will receive $1000 for performing the basic research projects that they perform during the spring semester of their freshman year, with all funds and paperwork handled by USP. Students will be expected to spend a minimum of 10 hours per week in engaged lab work.  By the end of their freshman year, students should have become a recognized member of the research team, participating in lab meetings, presenting work, and assisting where needed.

After their freshman year, these students can apply for funding through traditional USP, INBRE, Hughes, or other funding programs, or they may be supported by research grants secured by their faculty research advisors. While we expect that students will want to continue with their research project throughout their undergraduate career with a view to publishing the work and presenting at undergraduate research symposiums, this proposal is focused only on their freshman year.


Fall semester, 2014

Dr. Douglas will work with Dr. Shaw to develop an appropriate application process.

Dr. Ilse-Mari Lee and the Honors Program will host a “Research Symposium”.

Students will turn in 1-page descriptions of research interests/areas of science that interest them.

Faculty in all departments from which students in Honors General Chemistry I (as well as any other departments that are suggested by the students’ written descriptions) will meet to divide the students into research labs.

Students will receive their assignments and will begin working with their research groups.


Spring semester, 2015

Students will prepare and submit applications to the USP office.

A committee formed by Dr. Lee will screen applications.

Students will perform at least 10 hours per week of research throughout the semester.

USP will process all paperwork and paychecks for the students.

Students will be eligible for up to $500 for performing research, provided they meet the eligibility guidelines (good standing at MSU, etc.) required by USP.

Students will be encouraged to present their research at the USP-led celebration of student research in April.

At the end of the spring semester, students will submit a final report to USP.

Assessment Plan

To assess our impact on several of the metrics described above in the section on alignment with the Strategic Plan, we will periodically survey the students. We will survey students who are enrolled right now in Honors General Chemistry I (when the program is not in place), and we will survey the students who take Honors General Chemistry I next year with this program.

We will use the surveys to see if Metric L.3.2 (increasing the percentage of graduates who are pursuing advanced degrees) is improved. We will also survey students to see if Metrics E.1.2 and E.1.4 for increasing outreach and engagement are impacted by this proposal.

Metric I.1.4 of increasing the production of scholarly projects will be tracked by having all of the students in both cohorts submit information about their publications to the Undergraduate Scholars Program. Effects on metric I.1.1 will be measured by tracking the number of students from this year’s Honors General Chemistry I class who enroll in courses such as CHMY 291 and comparing this with the number of students from next year’s cohort.

For the Access section of the strategic plan, we think that access for all is a critically important component of the strategic plan. We think that a program where every interested student is made to feel welcome in a research group early in their freshman year should make STEM majors more attractive to all students, including Native American and other minority students. However, at this time, we do not know how to assess our program’s impact in this area. If the program is successful and moves from a pilot stage to larger implementation, then we may be able to track an increase in diversity of students enrolling in Honors Organic Chemistry I. But, since we don’t collect this data now, we are not sure how to assess our impacts in this critical area, even though we are committed to improving.

Students from both cohorts (now and next year’s classes) will also be surveyed periodically regarding how they feel that the research experience has impacted their career so that we can hear directly from them.

If assessed objectives are not met in the timeframe outlined what is the plan to sunset this proposal?

If assessment objectives are not met in the timeframe that has been outlined, then funding will not be requested to implement and expand this program in future years.

Department Head: Mary Cloninger (
Dean/Director: Paula Lutz (
Executive/VP: Tom Mccoy (