The latest available statistics (2007) from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) reported that an estimated 11.6 million students were enrolled at a community college (7.3 full-time). These numbers account for about half of the U.S. postsecondary student population. These large enrollment numbers highlight the increasing impact that community colleges are having on the education of postsecondary students in the United States. The characterization of the reform of undergraduate science education has been extensive, and reports from a variety of organizations have converged on some common features. Central to the reform movement is the idea that learning science should be an active endeavor that focuses on science as a process. Conceptual understanding of scientific principles can be enhanced through inquiry-based instruction and problem-based learning (PBL) strategies. The reform should involve the integration of an undergraduate research experience as early as is practical in the education of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students. In addition, the reform must have a well-defined strategy of assessment that involves a process of evaluation tailored to the specific mission and student demographic of the institution.
Taken together, it is clear that the community college must take a leadership position in implementing a reform effort that involves the integration of inquiry-based instructional models and undergraduate research. The Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative (CCURI) at Finger Lakes Community College (FLCC) is prepared to lead this reform nationally over the next four years.
The CCURI model of incorporating undergraduate research (UR) into community college curricula involves engaging students from the moment they enter the classroom. The model employs a case study method of instruction in freshman coursework. The CCURI writing team develops cases that instructors can use to teach basic scientific concepts within the context of an ongoing research project. Students are then given a opportunity to explore those projects as either a CURE (Course Undergraduate Research Experience), a SURE (Summer Undergraduate Research Experience) or PURE (Program Undergraduate Research Experience). The growing CCURI network has become a rich source of collaboration on both the curricular and research side of the CCURI model. This network represents the third level of the CCURI model. In this level, students are connected to research opportunities and opportunities to transfer their experience to a four-year institution as they continue to pursue their STEM career.