This project will examine how an authentic, multi-year research experience embedded within a 5-course sequence impacts the progressive professional preparation of undergraduate geoscience students. Multiple evidence-based studies published in the STEM education literature continue to affirm that participation in undergraduate research results in numerous cognitive, personal, and professional gains among STEM students. Recently emerging results suggest that longer-term experiences increase these benefits and are needed for more sophisticated skills to mature. It is challenging, however, to offer long-term experiences to large numbers of students via commonly used approaches. For example, curriculum-embedded research is typically short term, and longer-term independent study projects are often too resource intensive to reach beyond a select number of students. The investigators will test a more scalable model that provides a long-term unified experience while simultaneously reaching a broader cross section of students. The project team will immerse all geoscience majors in a thematic multi-year research project embedded within the core curriculum, including a summer geology field course. The investigators will examine the development of (1) research skills such as data acquisition and analysis, (2) personal gains such as student confidence and the ability to think like a scientist, and (3) communication skills to both scientists and the general public. The latter addresses both oral and written communication as well as the emerging use of social media for science communication. By carefully following student progress over 2 years, the team expects to capture when and how these skills develop and mature and what aspects of the experience are key to this development.
The authentic research experience focuses on (1) the rupture dynamics of earthquakes in and the longer-term rheological evolution of an exhumed Proterozoic age shear zone in the Colorado Rockies, and (2) the petrology of the rocks which host the shear zone. The field area is studied during an existing summer field course. Students will begin a project in their first sophomore-level geoscience course and continue with the same research project for 5 consecutive courses culminating at the summer field course. The student projects will advance the understanding of physical and chemical processes associated with earthquake rupture at the multi-kilometer scale near the base of the seismogenic zone where large earthquakes nucleate. This project will be based at a primarily undergraduate institution with an unusually large percentage of first-generation and low-income students in rural Appalachia. This will allow the study of outcomes achieved by an underserved population of students and compare them to national studies with different student demographics. Since the curriculum incorporates the development of communication skills, additional impacts include preparing the next generation of scientists to effectively convey science to the general public through face-to-face outreach and the use of social media.