Finger Lakes Community College will receive another $1.14 million from the National Science Foundation to support students learning about and pursuing careers in biotechnology.
The college previously received an NSF grant of $5.8 million for its role as home base for the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative. FLCC was tasked with developing and sharing its approach to teaching science through research.
In this new grant announced this week, FLCC is a participant in a project led by Austin Community College in Texas to develop a national network of biotech education projects.
“This latest grant is a testament to FLCC’s role as a national leader in the expansion of research opportunities for undergraduate students,” said FLCC President Robert Nye.
FLCC Professor James Hewlett, a Webster resident, launched the undergrad research initiative more than a decade ago, aiming to change how science is taught at community colleges. Research rather than planned lab exercises has proven to be more engaging to students and encourages them to go into science careers, studies have shown.
“If we’re teaching students to become scientists, we need to let them be scientists right from the start,” Hewlett said.
Last semester student Abigail Giddings of Walworth extracted DNA of freshwater sponges gathered across the northeastern U.S. to contribute to a database showing where each species was found. Sponge distribution can be an indicator of climate change and pollution.
“It made everything I had already learned about biology come to life,” Giddings said. She plans to go to medical school, where research will be more common. “It’s definitely more challenging than a lecture course, but I learned so much more at a deeper level.”
When FLCC started its research initiative with four other schools in 2006, about 3 percent of students went on to earn a four-year degree in science. Six years later, the rate was 13 percent. The network of participating schools has now grown to 42 institutions.
“I do think the research experience does deliver on multiple levels,” Hewlett said. “Research is inherently full of moments of failure which gives plenty of opportunity to leverage those results into opportunities to think critically and solve problems — skills highly valued by employers.”
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