On many community college campuses, formal undergraduate research is a dream. At Muskegon Community College, it’s a reality.
MCC students can take BIOL 280: Applied Research in Biology, a course taught by Darren Mattone, who over the past decade has spearheaded MCC’s official research efforts. His chance meeting in 2011 with an Upstate New York college instructor led to MCC becoming one of only 30 partners in the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative (CCURI), which has gradually expanded to 120 institutions.
“The idea was to develop an entry level experience to get our students interested in research and then build research into courses,” recalled Mattone, one of a group of eight MCC biology and chemistry instructors who learned many new techniques to teach their students and apply to research projects.
“We built a network of faculty around the country that we can contact for help, sharing our experiences and learning new skills. We were able to purchase many pieces of equipment for use in research and to perform techniques that most community colleges are not able to do because of infrastructure or expertise.”
The opening of MCC’s state-of-the-art Science Center in 2015 provided the student researchers with dedicated space and exceptional laboratories. Nearly 60 talented students have reaped the benefits of MCC’s research program and facilities, said Mattone.
“Students get hands-on research experiences and not cookbook lab exercises,” he explained. “They have been able to travel to many symposia to present their research, make contacts with other students and faculty, and share and learn from their collective research experiences. They learn how science really works, research resilience and what it feels like when results don’t turn out as anticipated, and skills such as scientific writing, oral communication, and understanding scientific concept through reading peer-reviewed literature.”
While National Science Foundation (NSF) funding for CCURI ended last August, the network of community colleges is actively seeking alternative long-range plans to continue showcasing student research and offer professional development.
At MCC, Mattone hopes to hoist the research banner higher. He has set his sights on developing a proposal for a research-based honors program that spans all disciplines.
“This would foster more interdisciplinary collaboration and research between faculty and students and build on what others are already doing,” he concluded. “This will then lead to the college-wide Scholars’ Day I’ve envisioned for years.”
Sometimes, visions do become realities.