Date of Award

8-2009

Level of Access

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Biochemistry

Advisor

Rebecca Van Beneden

Second Committee Member

Mary Tyler

Third Committee Member

Gert Nesin

Abstract

This study adapted the current model of science undergraduate research experiences (URE's) and applied this novel modification to include community college students. Numerous researchers have examined the efficacy of URE's in improving undergraduate retention and graduation rates, as well as matriculation rates for graduate programs. However, none have detailed the experience for community college students, and few have employed qualitative methodologies to gather relevant descriptive data from URE participants. This study included perspectives elicited from both non-traditional student participants and the established laboratory community. The purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of the traditional model for a non-traditional student population. The research effort described here utilized a qualitative design and an explanatory case study methodology. Six non-traditional students from the Maine Community College System participated in this study. Student participants were placed in six academic research laboratories located throughout the state. Student participants were interviewed three times during their ten-week internship and asked to record their personal reflections in electronic format. Participants from the established research community were also interviewed. These included both faculty mentors and other student laboratory personnel. Ongoing comparative analysis of the textual data revealed that laboratory organizational structure and social climate significantly influence acculturation outcomes for non-traditional URE participants. Student participants experienced a range of acculturation outcomes from full integration to marginalization. URE acculturation outcomes influenced development of non-traditional students? professional and academic self-concepts. Positive changes in students? self-concepts resulted in greater commitment to individual professional goals and academic aspirations. The findings from this study suggest that traditional science URE models can be successfully adapted to meet the unique needs of a non-traditional student population – community college students. These interpretations may encourage post-secondary educators, administrators, and policy makers to consider expanded access and support for non-traditional students seeking science URE opportunities.

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