Evaluating the Impacts of Unergraduate Research Programs at Mississippi State University for Developing Science Professionals
Since 2013, Mississippi State University has been offering research experiences for undergraduates through formal programs which pair high-performing students in collaborative research with faculty mentors. The purpose of these programs is to provide students with the opportunity to enhance scholarly activity, participate in the discovery of new knowledge, and become a part of the scientific community. We tested the hypotheses that undergraduate research improves student participants’ educational experience (including personal and professional development), enhances retention of talented students in science careers, and leads to discovery of new information that contributes to the larger body of knowledge, while also looking at faculty motivations, benefits, and challenges they face in mentoring an undergraduate. Preliminary data from surveys of past program participants indicate improved discipline-specific knowledge, greater understanding of the scientific process, and enhanced interest in graduate education in STEM fields. Results also indicate undergraduate students are significant contributors to the larger body of scientific knowledge, including participating in meaningful research activities, serving as co-authors on peer-reviewed papers, and presenting research at local, state, national, and international levels. These outcomes suggest guided undergraduate research programs are an effective mechanism for increasing scientific literacy among college students and recruiting new scientists to STEM career fields.