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Participatory Action Research Experiences for Undergraduates


Research experiences for undergraduates (REU) have been shown to be effective in improving undergraduate students’ personal/professional development, ability to synthesize knowledge, improvement in research skills, professional advancement, and career choice. Adding to the literature on REU programs, a new conceptual model situating REU within a context of participatory action research (PAR) is presented and compared with data from a PAR-based coastal climate research experience that took place in Summer 2012. The purpose of the interdisciplinary Participatory Action Research Experiences for Undergraduates (PAREU) model is to act as an additional year to traditional, lab-based REU where undergraduate science students, social science experts, and community members collaborate to develop research with the goal of enacting change.

The benefits to traditional REU’s are well established and include increased content knowledge, better research skills, changes in attitudes, and greater career awareness gained by students. Additional positive outcomes are expected from undergraduate researchers (UR) who participate in PAREU, including the ability to better communicate with non-scientists. With highly politicized aspects of science, such as climate change, this becomes especially important for future scientists. Further, they will be able to articulate the relevance of science research to society, which is an important skill, especially given the funding climate where agencies require broader impacts statements. Making science relevant may also benefit URs who wish to apply their science research.

Finally, URs will gain social science research skills by apprenticing in a research project that includes science and social science research components, which enables them to participate in future education and outreach. The model also positively impacts community members by elevating their voices within and outside the community, particularly in areas severely underserved socially and politically. The PAREU model empowers the community to take action from the research they, themselves, conducted, and enables them to carry out future research. Finally, many of these communities (and the general public) lack the understanding of the nature of science, which leads to ignorance on the part of citizens in areas of science such as climate change.

By participating in science/social science research, community members gain a better understanding of the nature of science, making them more informed citizens. The PAREU model is theoretically grounded in decades of research in social science and documented impacts of student research experiences. In addition to providing practical benefits for communities with needs solvable by scientific research, the model builds on and expands student skills gained from traditional REU programs Deep and sustained engagement among scientists, social scientists, and community leaders is expected to create better informed citizens and improve their ability to solve problems.

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