New Directions for Undergraduate Education

The Committee on Undergraduate Education met 7-9 November in Washington, D.C. to reaffirm its strategic plan and identify major initiatives for the next three to five years. The Committee's mission is to (i) promote access, excellence, and advancement in undergraduate microbiology education, (ii) enhance the community of undergraduate microbiology educators and students, and (iii) promote leadership in undergraduate microbiology education. The Committee envisions a world where the importance of microbiology is recognized universally, microbiology is integrated into curricula at all undergraduate institutions, and the scholarship of teaching and service is recognized and rewarded equally with the scholarship of discovery. 

             Student Programs. Effective immediately, the Committee proposed to expand the ASM Undergraduate Research Fellowship (URF) by leveraging funds and encouraging institutional support. Since 1994, ASM has provided nearly 215 undergraduate students with opportunities to conduct research and present their findings at a national meeting. Of the individuals awarded, nearly 51% are pursuing graduate degrees, 23% are in postdoctoral training programs or employed, and 26% are completing their undergraduate studies. Nearly every awardee has presented a poster at the ASM General Meeting, and most have published at least one peer-reviewed article based on their undergraduate work. This work has been supported by the Society's Fellowship Fund. Due to recent trends in the market, the amount of available monies has decreased significantly. Thus, beginning with the 2004 Program, the Committee seeks cofunding for student stipends with the expectation that the ASM URF program will continue to expand and serve as a national model. 

 Ten years ago, the Committee established the ASM URF program, and it continues to grow. In the upcoming five years, the focus will shift slightly. Students ask, “What can I do with a bachelor's or master's degree? What is a typical workday for a microbiologist in industry or government or teaching? If I am not interested in research or do not want to pursue graduate training, what other options are there?” These concerns, voiced more frequently by students who are uncertain about research but who want to remain in the field, are a major concern of the Committee. More students, particularly students who are first in their family to go to college, are seeking employment after their undergraduate studies. In response to a growing need among these students, the Committee will expand its career services and resources. For instance, they propose enhancing and expanding the ASM database of career speakers, establishing a website of career resources and opportunities, developing a packet of career information for students and faculty advisers to microbiology clubs, and taping interviews with microbiologists about their careers and the pathways they have sought to succeed. The taped interviews will be disseminated through the Internet. 

 Faculty Programs. Since 1994, the Committee has sponsored the ASM Conference for Undergraduate Educators (formerly the ASM Undergraduate Microbiology Education Conference). Each year the conference brings together 200 faculty members from undergraduate institutions to share their best teaching methods, discuss their teaching challenges, keep abreast of the microbiological sciences, and hear about new understandings in the cognitive sciences. “About 50% of the faculty participants are new to the conference each year. These new faculty members are in need of basic information (e.g., active learning strategies, laboratory safety, ASM MicrobeLibrary resources). They seek to validate their teaching methods and approaches,” says Neil Baker, chair of the Committee. 

 As the conference enters its second decade, the Committee recognizes a growing number of faculty members who have progressed beyond the early career stages, attended several conferences, and developed professionally along the educational continuum. The Committee members ask, “Is there a need for more intensive and more-focused, hands-on learning in research methods for teaching? Should we focus more on how and what students are learning rather than how faculty teach and communicate new ideas? How can faculty members develop their qualitative research skills, conduct research in learning, and publish in the Microbiology Education journal?” In the upcoming years, the Committee proposes three- to five-day, intensive, problem-based institutes for more experienced faculty to work through teaching challenges and problems. Faculty would learn about research methods for measuring student learning and ultimately, improve their teaching. They may develop pilot proposals to encourage interdisciplinary projects between departments within a university or among universities. Some may expand on the curriculum guidelines and identify questions to assess student learning through reliable exams. Others would develop plans to mentor graduate students, postdoctoral scientists, and early-career faculty on the scholarship of teaching and service in addition to the scholarship of discovery. The Committee proposes to collaborate with the ASM Committee on Graduate Education to establish an ASM postdoctoral fellowship in teaching. 

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