George Risinger tells his community college students that research experiences are not just something students attending four-year institutions can have.
Many students attending community colleges focus on completing a specific training certificate program. They’re seeking employment quickly after graduation. Risinger, a biology professor at Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC), thinks community college students can reap huge benefits from undergraduate research experiences.
“I think it can open their eyes to a whole new world that they might not have known existed,” he says.
A few years ago, Risinger took a group of students from OCCC’s former biotechnology program to ASCB’s annual meeting.
“[The biotech students] had a much better idea than most of their peers regarding science and research,” Risinger says. “They were all pretty amazed at how big the scientific community really is and excited about the different possibilities of career paths that they’d not considered before.”
While not impossible, finding outlets where community college students can engage in undergraduate research experiences presents challenges. Luckily for Risinger, his flexible community college teaching job allows him to retain ties with the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, where he earned his PhD and completed a postdoc. Because of these ongoing connections, Risinger steers students to possible undergraduate research experiences there and elsewhere.
“I have used those connections to place students in volunteer or sometimes even for-pay situations at nearby institutions,” Risinger says. “I realize that not all community college students will necessarily be near a research institution or have a professor with those types of ties. In those instances, the student may want to approach one of their professors about working together at their community college to scrape together the resources to try to do some research on campus. Logistics might be hard to figure out, but if the student and professor are passionate enough, they can get some sort of project off the ground.”
Risinger, the new co-chair of ASCB’s Education Committee, appreciates that the Society promotes evidence-based life science teaching methods, such as active learning. “I am grateful to have been able to join the committee and hope that my less-experienced perspective might help speak for those who are newer or are still considering taking these more active approaches into the classroom,” he says.
Risinger noted that ASCB strongly supports community college students and their faculty in attending the annual meetings. ASCB offers discounted memberships and free national meeting registration for educators. He says that getting more faculty members aware of these ASCB membership perks will, in turn, work toward getting more students aware of the Society.
About the Author:
Mary Spiro is ASCB's Science Writer and Social Media Manager.