TitleEarly Research Apprenticeship Program Request Date2012-11-30
DepartmentUndergraduate Scholars Program
RequestorColin Shaw Phone994-6760
Campuses Bozeman Billings Havre Great Falls FSTS Extension MAES
Cross Depts All academic departments
Proposed Dates Start: 01 July 2013 End:  
The Early Research Apprenticeship Program (ERAP) will offer directed student research opportunities to introduce the transformative experience of undergraduate research to more MSU first- and second-year students. Similar programs at other universities have demonstrably enhanced retention during these critical early years by engaging student assistants in the research mission of the university, providing a sense of connection to faculty and peers, and demonstrating the real-world relevance of academic learning. ERAP will offer a closely-supervised introductory experience that will prepare students for more independent research.
ERAP is a transformative program that will advance the mission of the university by offering every MSU student an authentic research-centered educational experience. ERAP builds on the foundation of inquiry-based learning promoted by Core 2.0 and provides an entry point for more independent research and creative projects. ERAP will engage students in the university’s stated goals to educate students by integrating learning, discovery, and engagement, create knowledge and art, and serve both the university and broader communities of Montana, the U.S. and the world. In particular ERAP addresses the following objectives in the MSU strategic plan:

1. Learning – Objective L.2: Increase Graduation Rates. Quantitative assessment of a similar program at the University of Michigan (Gregerman, 2010; Nagda et al. 1998) showed a significant increase in retention among randomly selected program participants measured against fully-qualified applicants that were not selected for the program.

2. Discovery: ERAP will promote broader participation in undergraduate research and discovery. Undergraduate research contributes to the overall research productivity of the university and supports graduate student and faculty research achievement.

3. Integration – Objective I.1: Increase integration of learning, discovery and engagement. ERAP will promote and broaden participation in faculty-student research leading to increases in undergraduate research experiences and faculty scholarly products with undergraduates.

4.Access: ERAP will enhance participation in undergraduate research by underrepresented groups and first generation students by providing a introductory research experience.
Funding Type: One-Time Only Funding Base (3-yr Recurring) Funding
  FY13 FY14 FY15 Base ($) OTO Startup ($)   FTE;
Salaries       60000       
Benefits       378       
Materials & Supplies              
Contracted Services         8000     
Other Operations              
TOTAL 60378  8000     
Please comment, if necessary, regarding cost and requirements.

The largest items in the budget are direct support of student apprentices and peer mentors (listed under Personnel). The remainder of the budget is for program coordination and operations (Base funding), instruction (Personnel) and development of an on line application and clearinghouse system (OTO funding).

One-Time-Only (OTO). One-time only funds are requested to develop and deploy an online clearing-house and application system for faculty to post research opportunities and students to apply. This will be contracted through the MSU web-development team at $60/hour. Based on recent experience developing the new USP online application system we estimate that the application system will require about 130 hours of work for a total expense of about $8000.

Personnel (Annual). Annual personnel expenses include stipend/salary for Undergraduate Research Apprentices ($9/hour) and peer mentors ($11/hour) as well as salary for research seminar instructors ($2500/credit). Federal work-study will pay 70% of wages for eligible students, but ERAP will be responsible for benefits (5.1%) and a 10% service charge from the Financial Aid office. Based on an average anticipated work-study eligibility of 15 hours/week we have budgeted about $2000/student ($4400 earnings with federal work-study). We anticipate funding 20-30 students for each year of the pilot program depending on the proportion of work-study eligible applicants. We have budgeted 1 peer advisor for every 6 Research Apprentices. Pay for work-study-eligible peer advisors would be approximately $2500 each. Research seminars would be limited to ~15 students. We have budgeted two credits of instruction (+ benefits) for each semester of the pilot. 

Describe the Proposal

Undergraduate research can be a transformative experience. As director of the Undergraduate Scholars Program I hear numerous testimonials of how research experiences have opened up new vistas and led to career options that a student never would have considered. From the non-traditional student discovering a new passion in literary scholarship leading her to pursue a graduate degree to the ranch kid from eastern Montana launching a stellar career in biomedical science based on an early experience as a laboratory assistant, undergraduate research has transformed the academic trajectory of many students. MSU has been remarkably successful in promoting undergraduate research with the success of our research students contributing to our outstanding record of prestigious scholarships and our very high research activity. But, are we reaching all students who might benefit from a research experience? Existing undergraduate research programs on campus tend to reward students who are already on a trajectory of high-achievement. This proposal outlines a program for Early Research Apprenticeships targeting first- and second-year students who might not have considered research as a viable academic pursuit. The program is based on time-tested and validated programs at other universities and includes a rigorous assessment and evaluation component. We proposed to leverage work-study funding for eligible students to maximize the cost-effectiveness of the program.

ERAP would complement existing undergraduate research programs that require highly independent work, by providing a more structured introduction to research as the first rung an a ‘research ladder’ that would ultimately prepare students for more autonomous research in programs such as USP, INBRE or McNair. This research-laddermodel for fostering confidence and skill in research students is time-tested. Many of the very best research students at MSU started as lab assistants with top researchers who offer lab apprenticeships that prepare students for more self-directed research projects. After one or two years immersed in the culture of research and mastering the skills and intellectual habits of their discipline students are ready to undertake ambitious independent research projects with faculty mentoring. As director of USP I frequently hear that it takes students 2-3 years of experience to truly reach their potential as independent researchers. ERAP is designed to make it possible for less-well-funded faculty in science, engineering, humanities and the arts to offer lab, field or studio apprenticeships for beginning research students, thus enhancing the preparation of students embarking on independent research projects funded by our USP, other programs, or individual grants. ERAP will broaden the reach and enhance the impact of undergraduate research at MSU by engaging students from diverse backgrounds across the academic spectrum.

ERAP would provide a sort of ‘employment service’ matching interested students with research opportunities posted by faculty. Students would be paid through the ERAP program leveraging federal work-study for eligible students. This would make undergraduate research apprentices more affordable for research groups in all disciplines that might otherwise not be able to offer such opportunities. We think that paying students for pre-professional work in their field sends a positive message and is a more constructive use of work-study funds than paying them to wash dishes, mow lawns or make sandwiches. ERAP students also would enroll in a one- or two-credit research seminar that would introduce them to exciting research through guest speakers, provide a grounding in the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR - now required by many federal funding agencies), and build basic discipline-specific research skills in break-out workshops. We think that this training will provide significant added value that will make these students more attractive as research apprentices and enhance their contributions to faculty research productivity. More advanced undergraduate researchers (e.g. USP students or ERAP alumni) would serve as peer-mentors and role models to help students become comfortable with the culture of academic research and provide advice and guidance for beginning researchers.

ERAP is modeled after the successful Undergraduate Research Opportunities program at the University of Michigan ( We have chosen this program as a model because of its well-documented success as and introductory research experience. Assessment using a paired-random control group showed notable gains in retention for many under-represented student demographic groups (Gregerman, 2010) as well as a high rate of continuation into higher-level research programs. A similar rigorous assessment program will be incorporated into two-year pilot implementation of ERAP proposed here.

ERAP is designed to build on MSU’s strength as a leader in undergraduate research (NWCCU Accreditation Report; 2009) by leveraging the infrastructure and expertise of the thriving Undergraduate Scholars Program which has nearly quadrupled in size since 2005. ERAP will complement existing student research programs on campus by providing the first step in a vertically integrated undergraduate research ladder that – with programs like USP, McNair Scholars, MSGC, INBRE and HUB – will provide a research-centered complement to the academic curriculum. This would be an enormous step toward realizing the recommendation to make research-based learning the standard laid out nearly a decade ago in The Boyer Commission Report -  Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America’s Research Universities  (Kenny et al., 2001).

Program Outline. ERAP will integrate hands-on research experiences in labs, studios, research centers etc. with supporting seminars, workshops and peer advising. ERAP will pair first- and second-year students with pre-defined research projects developed and supervised by faculty mentors. This builds on the model of research apprenticeships that is currently a major pathway to independent research in the laboratory sciences. The ERAP program would offer three reinforcing elements: 

  1. Research Apprenticeship. Students will engage in 8-20 hours/week of research, scholarly or creative activity. Activities will be introductory-level hands-on work supervised by faculty aided by graduate students and/or more experienced undergraduates as appropriate. ERAP projects would have less expectation of independence than USP-type projects. Examples might include routine lab, field or studio work, experimental protocol development, primary source library research, etc. Projects will be solicited from faculty who benefit from cost-free research assistance. Students will apply for projects of interest and are vetted by ERAP staff; final selection is made by the sponsoring faculty mentor. Eligible ERAP Students will be paid through federal work study program (70%) with required contributions from program funds (30% + service charge + benefits).
  2. Research Seminar & Workshop. ERAP students will participate in a semi-weekly seminar (one- or two-credits/semester) to learn research concepts and skills, foster a community of scholars and introduce students to the culture of academic research and creativity. Topics will include responsible conduct of research, career tracks and learning strategies. The focus will be on interdisciplinary discovery, but discipline-specific break-out workshops will focus on basic disciplinary skills for appropriate sub-groups. During the spring semester students will work on individual or group presentations of their research experience to be presented at the Student Research Celebration in April
  3. Peer Advisors. To complement the research seminar and provide advice and support students will meet in small groups with advanced undergraduate research advisors in their discipline to discuss their research and troubleshoot time management or personal issues. Peer advisors will compensated through federal work study (when eligible) and the ERAP program.

References Cited (all sections of proposal)

Astin, A.W., 1997, What Matters in College?: four Critical Years Revisited: New York, Jossey-Bass, 512 p.

Gregerman, S.R., 2010, The Role of Undergraduate Research in Student Retention, Academic Engagement, and the Pursuit of Graduate Education, Promising Practices in STEM Education, National Academy of Sciences, p. 9.

Kenny, S.S., Alberts, B., Booth, W.C., Glaser, M., Glassick, C.E., Ikenberry, S.O., Jamieson, K.H., O'Niel, R.M., Reid-Wallace, C., Tien, C.-L., and Yang, C.N., 2001, Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America’s Research Universities, Boyer Commission Report on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University., Stony Brook, p. 46.

Kuh, G.D., 2005, Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter, Jossey-Bass.

Nagda, B.A., Gregerman, S.R., Jonides, J., von Hippel, W., and Lerner, J.S., 1998, Undergraduate student-faculty research partnerships affect student retention: REVIEW OF HIGHER EDUCATION, v. 22, p. 55-55.

NWCCU, 2009, A Full-Scale Evaluation Committee Report: Montana State University - Bozeman, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, p. 41.

Pascarella, E.T., and Terenzini, P.T., 2005, How College Affects Students (Volume 2): A Third Decade of Research, Jossey Bass.

Describe the broader impacts and benefits of this proposal

Early involvement in undergraduate research and creative activity has been shown to increase student retention significantly (Gregerman, 2010; Nagda et al., 1998). There is currently no formal program at MSU to provide this early connection to student research. USP, INBRE, MSGC McNair and other undergraduate research programs primarily impact high-achieving upper-division students who are on a trajectory of academic success. These programs, along with research assistantships provided by individual PI’s, are the foundation of the remarkable success of MSU students in prestigious scholarship competitions like the Goldwater that require a strong record of research achievement. ERAP is designed to offer promising students from diverse backgrounds an entrée to the world of research that might otherwise seem out-of-reach or entirely obscure. This approach is particularly likely to benefit talented first-generation college students who might not consider research as a viable academic or career path. ERAP will also provide an opportunity for faculty in the humanities and other areas that rarely compete for large research grants to offer research experiences on par with better-funded colleagues in science and engineering.

Faculty-mentored undergraduate research enhances the frequency and quality of faculty/student interactions, builds collegial peer networks among students engaged in research, demonstrates the relevance of knowledge gained in coursework, and integrates students into the campus culture of research. All of these benefits are identified by the American Association of Colleges and Universities LEAP project as high impact strategies for student success ( Involvement in undergraduate research is a leading factor in retention and post-graduation achievement (Astin, 1997; Kuh, 2005; Pascarella and Terenzini, 2005). MSU’s commitment to “integrating learning, discovery and engagement” (Mission Statement, 2011) is exemplified in our recognized excellence in undergraduate research. Continued leadership in this area demands continued innovation and investment. ERAP is a bold step toward broadening the reach and enhancing the impact of our undergraduate research programs at MSU. 

Contribution to University Priorities. ERAP is a transformative program that will advance the mission of the university by offering every MSU student an authentic research-centered educational experience. ERAP builds on the foundation of inquiry-based learning promoted by Core 2.0 and provides an entry point for more independent research and creative projects. Provided that ERAP meets the objectives defined under assessment below, this pilot project will grow into an ongoing introductory research program at MSU Bozeman and could provide a template for creating similar programs statewide. In particular ERAP will engage students in the university’s stated goals to educate students by integrating learning, discovery, and engagement, create knowledge and art, and serve both the university and broader communities of Montana, the U.S. and the world.

Implementation Plan

This proposal requests funds for a two-year pilot program with an annual cohort of 20-25 ERAP students. Implementation would begin spring 2013 with full funding beginning in FY 2013 (1 July 2013). During the pilot program we will work with the Budget Council, MSU Foundation, Office of Research and Creativity, individual Principal Investigators (PI’s) and others to develop a model for sustainable funding. We anticipate phasing in new sources of funding during the pilot period to gradually increase the number of participants. We also anticipate supplementing funds from this program and EPSCoR with contributions from well-funded research groups to help offset expenses related to Research Apprentices in their groups. Efficient implementation of the program will be ensured by leveraging the infrastructure and experience of the Undergraduate Scholars Program staff.


July 2013

Develop online application system and web site, Solicit faculty projects, request course number designation for seminar, begin recruitment of 1st cohort

July - August 2013

Select first student cohort, Hire peer advisors

Fall 2013

Apprenticeships & Seminars/workshops

Spring 2014

Apprenticeships & Seminars/workshops, solicit new/continuing faculty projects, begin recruitment of 2nd cohort

April 2014

Research Presentations

May 2014

1st cohort participant survey/exit interviews

Summer 2014

Summer apprenticeship program? Secure sustainable funding for ongoing program, select 2nd cohort, hire peer advisors

2014-16 Acad. Year

2nd cohort apprenticeships & seminars/workshops

2014 à

Compile & publish assessment results. Implement sustainable funding model. Work to replicate at other campuses throughout MUS

Assessment Plan

During the second year ERAP would be rigorously assessed for its effect on student retention and achievement using a random paired comparison between the first two cohorts and a control group of unsuccessful applicants. Although the sample size will be relatively small a rigorous control-group methodology for comparison of retention rates and outcomes among the two initial cohorts (~50 students total) should provide preliminary insight into the effectiveness of the program. Applicants will be screened for acceptance into the program. To ensure that the control group and experimental group are comparable about half of the qualified applicants will be randomly selected for the program. These students will be eligible to apply for the 20-30 research positions funded in the pilot program. Students not selected for the program will be tracked as a non-participant control group. Note that selection of the experimental and control groups will be random, not merit-based. The proposed random control group comparison is much more valid than a comparison between program participants and the general student population because experimental and control groups will be randomly selected form the same pool of qualified applicants and paired according to quantifiable criteria. The participants and non-participant control group applicants will be tracked for 5 years after completion of the program to assess the 6-year retention rate and career trajectory of the cohort and control group. Participants and control group will be entered into the new Undergraduate Research Information Database administered by USP (implemented fall 2011)and long-term outcomes will be tracked by collating these records with Studenttracker Aggregate data set from the National Student Clearinghouse provided by the Office of Planning and Analysis (OPA). Standard OPA procedures would be followed to ensure student privacy in compliance with FERPA. 

Assessment Targets:

  • First-year retention of >80% of participants and statistically greater retention than control group
  • Higher rate of subsequent participation in undergraduate independent research among participants than among control group.
  • Statistically significant impact on retention and subsequent undergraduate research participation for first generation and underrepresented-group college students
  • Statistically significant impact on retention and subsequent undergraduate research participation for Montana in-state students
  • Positive qualitative and/or quantitative outcomes related to academic program and career trajectory (long term assessment)
  • Positive feedback on participating student and sponsoring faculty survey and interviews
  • Publication of results in scholarly journal (2016)

We envision establishing ERAP as a long-term program and as a model for similar programs statewide. We propose that after successful completion of the initial three-year pilot program with documentation that all goals of the program have been met or exceeded that the program be funded through state fund dollars provided by some combination of Academic Affairs and the Research Office.  

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

If objectives are not met by the end of the funding period the program would sunset.

Department Head: Colin Shaw (
Dean/Director: David Singel (
Executive/VP: Martha Potvin (