Montana State University

MSU launches program to engage first-year students through research

December 12, 2014 -- MSU News Service

MSU is launching a program to engage first-year and at-risk students through research as part of its efforts to help students stay in school. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

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Montana State University is launching a program to engage students through research as part of its efforts to help students stay in school.

The university has designated funds for FYRE, the First Year Research Experience. The program is designed to introduce first-year students to undergraduate research, according to Colin Shaw, MSU assistant research professor of Earth sciences and director of the Undergraduate Scholars Program, which is developing the new initiative.

“There is evidence that early engagement in research increases the likelihood that students will stay in school during the critical early years,” Shaw said. “This is accomplished by involving students in the research mission of the university, providing a sense of connection to faculty and peers, and demonstrating the real-world relevance of academic pursuits.”

As part of FYRE, students will complete a one-credit course that introduces basic research skills as well as the research culture at MSU. Students will also work as a laboratory or research assistant and receive mentoring, and they will participate in a semi-weekly seminar focused on research concepts and skills.

Shaw noted that a pilot group of six students began the program in the fall.

Oscar Machado, a first-year student from Tehachapi, Calif., participated in FYRE this fall. He said the program gives first-year students an advantage, and he would recommend it to others.

“I got to learn a lot of cool new things this semester,” he said. “I’ve been trained to work with a scanning electron microscope – you can view everyday objects in a totally different way. This research program is giving me an edge — it's great experience."

Machado, who would like to become a neuroscientist, is majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. He intends to continue to be involved in research at MSU and looks forward to being placed in a lab.

FYRE is designed to build on MSU’s strength as a leader in undergraduate research, according to MSU Provost and Executive Vice President Martha Potvin.

“MSU has been very successful in promoting undergraduate research for upper division students, with the university’s Undergraduate Scholars Program nearly quadrupling in size since 2005,” Potvin said. “By leveraging the infrastructure and expertise of this thriving program, we intend to reach more students who could benefit from a research experience.”

FYRE has the potential to transform the academic experience and goals of many students, Shaw said.

“This program is intended to reach promising students early in their academic careers to help them take the first steps on a pathway to continued research engagement and academic success.”

FYRE is one of 51 programs in which the university invested one-time funding to increase the number of students who stay in school and graduate. Last academic year, MSU registered strong gains under performance funding criteria approved by the Montana Board of Regents in 2013. MSU’s success in retaining first-year undergraduates and increasing the number of undergraduate degrees awarded resulted in MSU receiving roughly $2.3 million in one-time funding.

Students who are interested in participating in FYRE are invited to contact Shaw at (406) 994-6760 or

Contact: Colin Shaw, (406) 994-6760 or