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CUR Transformation Project will support undergraduate research at WSSU

WSSU students Jadah Pickney (left) and Leah Walker perform a collaborative lab experiment as part of their biology lab course, which was fine-tuned to emphasize course-embedded research.

Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) is one of 12 institutions in the nation selected for a four-year project through the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) that will help introduce more students to high-quality undergraduate research.

Throughout the project, funded through the National Science Foundation, CUR will provide four consultants to support WSSU faculty in the Biological Sciences and Chemistry departments as they redesign undergraduate curriculum to focus on faculty-mentored research. CUR also will assist in developing research assessments.

“Providing research opportunities for all students is a high priority for WSSU and identified in the university’s 2016-21 strategic plan,” said Dr. Mike McKenzie, associate dean of student research at WSSU. “Being selected as part of the CUR Transformations Project is vitally important, as it will support this work and help to create lasting institutional change that will positively impact our students.”

McKenzie points to several recent successes:

  • For the 2016-17 academic, the first lab course for all biology majors, General Biology Lab I, was fine-tuned to support course-embedded research. Similar work is planned for the second semester of the first-year lab course.
  • The Department of Chemistry recently aligned the curriculum to make the major more flexible while maintaining American Chemical Society-Committee on Professional Training requirements for certification.

Long term, several courses in both departments are being developed or redeveloped at various academic levels to support scientific research at multiple points during students’ degrees, he said.

High-impact practices, such as undergraduate research, have been shown to be especially important for the population of students that WSSU serves, specifically first-generation and under-served minority students, McKenzie said. Research experience also is crucial to graduates’ success in graduate school and in the STEM workforce.

McKenzie said the curriculum changes also will allow WSSU to recruit and retain more biology and chemistry majors. 

The CUR project is expected to begin in October with a collective meeting.

McKenzie is the principal investigator (PI) on the project. Louise Allen, special assistant, Office of Science Initiatives, is the co-PI. A total of 88 institutions submitted pre-proposals for the project. 

The Council on Undergraduate Research, founded in 1978, is a national organization of individual and institutional members representing more than 900 colleges and universities. 

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