Freshman Research Initiative

Organizing idea

The Freshman Research Initiative at ISU introduces freshman undergraduates to authentic research. Streams of 15-20 students in introductory classes are co-opted into faculty members research programs where students design their own experiments for course credit. These course-based research projects have the potential to reach mpre students than traditional one-on-one mentoring. Faculty in different courses are exploring a variety of ways to provide research opportunites in their classes, here is a tentative typology of the type of experiences.

We are currently accepting proposals (RFP) for streams that will start in Spring 18. Please send proposals to Elizabeth Sandquist at

To view current Research Streams, visit

Howard Hughes Medical Institute / Iowa State University: “Engage to Excel (E2E)

Project Director: Craig Ogilvie, Assistant Dean and Professor in Physics and Astronomy

. . .to create learning experiences, inclusive communities and support structures to enable students to persist and excel in STEM and begin to see themselves as young scientists.

                                                                        Engage to Excel @ISU Vision Statement

Authentic Research Experiences in Lab Courses

Faculty Leader: Jeff Essner

            One of the grand challenges in science education is the need to “incorporate active science inquiry into all introductory college science classes” in an effort to develop students’ critical thinking skills and a deeper understanding of the nature of science (Alberts, 2013). Central to this approach is early and sustained exposure to research (Weaver et al., 2008; PCAST, 2012). Authentic research experiences were a key and successful component of the HHMI 2010 grant (Moss et al., 2011).

            To reach greater numbers of freshmen, we will adapt the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) implemented at the University of Texas, Austin, which gives first-year students the opportunity to engage in research while being mentored by faculty and graduate students. This approach has been successful in retaining STEM students, especially under-represented minorities and students at-risk of leaving STEM (Cahalan, 2011). FRI-ISU will make it possible for an additional 400 freshmen to enroll in research streams within their discipline’s Learning Communities. The research streams will be closely aligned with faculty research programs and accommodate 15 to 50 students who will collaborate to address novel research questions. A prototype is in place on catalyst materials for CO2 sequestering and enrolls 40 Iowa State University freshmen chemistry majors. Other options, such as biological and bioengineering approaches to influence neural cell growth and regeneration, are being developed for consideration. HHMI grant funds will cover start-up costs. Each stream will be sustained through tuition, lab fees, and research group resources.

            Incoming freshmen -- either in declared STEM majors or undeclared -- will be introduced to research streams during the fall semester. In the spring students will enroll in three-credit courses for six to nine hours per week. The research streams can substitute for an introductory lab or an elective, and will be housed within a learning community for support and discussion. A graduate TA and undergraduate mentors will lead each research stream. Following completion, interested students will be encouraged to continue their research on a for-credit basis, as an hourly employee, or as a summer intern with the PI. Our goal is 18 research streams in physics, chemistry, and biology by the grant’s conclusion. We will assess the quality of the students’ experience using the Classroom Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) survey (Lopatto, et al., 2008). We will examine growth in understanding of the nature of science using the Student Understanding of Science and Scientific Inquiry (SUSSI) (Liang et al., 2008), and science process skills using the Test of Scientific Literacy (TOSLS) instrument (Gormally et al., 2012). Gains in these measures are project-wide Key Performance Indicators (KPI) while the KPI specific to this element is the number of freshmen students engaged in research.


Alberts, B. (2013), Science, 340 (6130), 249.

Cahalan, R. (2011)., Retrieved Sept. 25, 2013.

Gormally, C., Brickman, P., and Lutz, M. (2012). CBE Life Sci Educ., 11, 364-377.

Liang, L., Chen, S., Chen, X., Kaya, O., Adams, A., Macklin, M., and Ebenezer, J. (2008). Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, 9, 1-20.

Lopatto, D. et al. (2008). Science, 322 (5902), 684-685.

Moss, E., Cervato, C. and Ihrig, L. (2011). Geol.Soc.Am. Abstracts, 43 (5), 636.

President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)(2012). Released February 7, 2012.   

Weaver, G. C., Russell, C. B. & Wink, D. J. (2008). Nature Chemical Biology, 4, 577-580.