Non Technical Summary
Low levels of undergraduate retention, and consequently, students' slow progression to graduation is a major challenge of many educational institutions today, including the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES). While this challenge is exacerbated by under- preparation of some recruited students, it also presents the opportunity and necessity to design innovative means to prepare students from a range of competency levels, and enable them to attain proficiency in their disciplinary and soft skills, achieve their career goals and also fulfill the mission of the educational institution.One such approach is to develop and adopt actions to enable high retention rates of students at each stage of their study from freshman to the senior years. Thus, the overall goal of this project is to use an integrated approach of research internships, mentorships, and student service activities to increase undergraduate retention and progression to graduation. This proposal will provide research internships to selected sophomores, juniors, and seniors who will also serve as peer mentors and tutors for freshmen students. The cadre of post freshman students/interns, under the guidance of UMES faculty mentors and Agriculture Research Service (ARS) researchers, will gain research and soft skills experience. These interns will also serve as role models using their leadership experiences to provide mentoring and tutoring to freshman in entry level agriculture courses which they have already mastered. The outcome of this project will be more students retained, graduated, and prepared to meet the workforce needs in food and agriculture.
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories
Goals / Objectives
The overall goal of this project is to use an integrated approach of research internships, mentorship, and student service activities to increase undergraduate retention and progression to graduation. The specific objectives are:To enhance research internship opportunities and experiential curricular offerings to strengthen student's disciplinary and soft skills and success to graduation.To engage post freshman undergraduate research students in peer mentoring and tutoring of freshmen.
Objective 1- To enhance research internship opportunities and experiential curricular offerings to strengthen student's disciplinary and soft skills and success to graduation. (a) Research InternshipsSeventeen agriculture seniors, juniors and sophomores will be recruited as paid research interns. The project director will advertise the internships on campus and work with the CO-PDs and collaborators torecruit them for the research experiences. The criteria for selection will be at least a C grade in previous academic work, an essay discussing the students desire to engage in an agriculture research project, two letters of recommendation from two teachers or other individuals who have academically interacted with potential scholars, and an interview. Interns will have one of three options for their work experience: (1) 20-hours/week for two 14-week semesters on campus or, (2) 20-hours/week for a semester and 40 hours per week for eight-week summer on campus or, (3) a 20-hours/week semester on campus and a 40 hours per week summer with one of two USDA-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) laboratories in Beltsville, MD.Each intern will be paired with a research mentor to help him/her hone disciplinary and soft skills, while gaining research experience. The activities will include various agriculture projects, e.g., food safety and biosecurity organic farming, small-scale agriculture, and water quality/nutrient management.The PD will procure instruments and materials to update the labs or practical sites in animal science, microbiology, food safety, plant science, and soil science. The PD, CO-PDs, and collaborators will use these materials and instruments to complement existing equipment in their laboratories to support student research in animal science, water quality, food safety, and organic agriculture; and supervised, individualized, experiential courses. Investigators will conduct orientation meetings for all interns and research mentors at the beginning of the semester or summer of the students' research experience with a progress meeting at the end of each semester/summer. Interns will attend the project meetings of the mentor's research team, as well as one-on-one meetings with the mentor twice each semester or summer period. Faculty mentors will use formative and summative assessments to evaluate their intern's progress as they conduct research and disseminate their finding. Each interns will complete a self evaluation using a rubric adapted from a research internship assessment instrument developed by the investigators and used by them for interns' evaluations. The faculty member will review and give feedback for use in reaching their goals. The skills evaluated will include the scholar's punctuality, willingness to learn and accept change, dependability and initiative, responsibility and professionalism, writing ability, oral communication ability, problem solving ability/critical thinking, ability to work with others, and areas requiring greater attention or improvement. To assess communication and critical thinking skills, a second assessment toolfrom the investigators ongoing work with interns will be adapted and used.The interns will acquire hands-on experience on the researchers' projects as well as conduct their own scientific research projects. Faculty mentors will guide the interns in: identifying specific research projects; conducting literature searches; collecting and analyzing data; writing research papers; and preparing undergraduate poster and oral presentations of their research for field days, workshops, professional conferences, and meetings. All research interns and students enrolled in the supervised, individualized, experiential courses will make on- campus presentations on their research each semester. They will receive feedback through a seminar evaluation sheet that will be completed by the faculty, staff and other students who attend. They will also have the opportunity to present their research at the annual UMES Graduate Symposium.b) Curricular Experiential ActivitiesThe agriculture curriculum provides post freshman students with the opportunity to enroll in the following supervised, individualized, experiential courses; Practicum in Animal and Poultry Science (ANPT 202), Special Topics in Agriculture (AGRI 499), Independent Study in Plant and Soil Science (AGRN 499) and Internship in Agriculture and Natural Resources (PLSC 484). These enrolled students, although not paid on this grant, will have similar research opportunities to use the updated equipment and supplies on this grant to conduct agriculture research with the faculty investigators as they fulfill the requirements of the course. They will also attend the orientation meetings and some of the other research meetings as applicable, but their research will end at the end of the semester when course grades will be due. Formative and summative assessments of their performance will be done using the instrument developed for the paid research interns. Another expectation of each of the unpaid students receiving course credits will be weekly journal writings of their hands-on activities, a final report that includes disciplinary content and reflection of the experiences acquired and a seminar presentation on their project. We anticipate that 15 students per year will be served and gain benefits from these hands-on trainings/internships.Objective 2: To engage post freshman undergraduate research interns in tutoring and peer mentoring and of freshmenProviding access to suitable options for students to use and master course materials is vital for freshman success. Although the university has a structured tutoring program, the student tutors are not always agriculture majors, and so they lack knowledge of the introductory agriculture courses for which freshman seek help. Therefore, we will develop and implement an Undergraduate Learning Assistants (ULA) program for undergraduate labs and a tutoring program for freshman lecture courses with the paid research interns serving in this role. The ULA will assist the faculty in labs and provide tutoring to those students requiring tutoring through a planned schedule.Student success and retention are linked to personal satisfaction and feeling of connection in and outside of the learning environment. Therefore, the mentoring aspect of this project is to help students connect with the people in the program and outside. First year students will be grouped/clustered with selected research interns who will serve as mentors. Each student mentor will assist his/her first year cluster by sharing information about personal campus experiences and campus opportunities and activities to provide academic, social, and personal support for them. These student mentors will receive training on Freshmen Mentoring from the resources of the UMES Center for Access and Academic Success.A one-credit course, First Year Experience Seminar (AGNR 111), is required of all agriculture majors at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. It is designed to assist all new students with their pursuit of academic excellence and successful social and academic transition into the university, and is taught by the CO-PD (Marsh).Selected modules of this course, particularly the sections on campus life will involve the post freshman student sharing their experiences with the class through presentations that will include information on departmental clubs, honor society expectations and successful graduation progression habits. The course is offered in the fall semester of every academic year. We anticipate that 40 freshmen per year will be impacted through the mentoring and tutoring program. Research interns will also assist in the planning of one social activity to orient freshman to their home department.