Piedmont Tech Selected for National Research Initiative

Piedmont Technical College has been selected to participate in a national project that will focus on preparing students for transfer opportunities. The Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative (CCURI) is designed to support community colleges in their efforts to incorporate an undergraduate research experience into their science curriculum.

PTC launched its transfer program more than 20 years ago. Currently, Piedmont Tech offers more than 60 courses that transfer. The College has also established specific transfer agreements with major four-year institutions that allow students to start at PTC and transfer their course work to their destination schools seamlessly.

“The research experience is being integrated earlier and earlier into the undergraduate experience,” said Dale Smoak, department head for biological and chemical sciences. “This is a proactive effort to make sure our transfer students are fully prepared when they get to that third year. We want to make sure the playing field is level when they get to the four-year university.”

The initiative is focused on community colleges because of the increasing number of students starting their studies at two-year colleges across the nation. According to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), an estimated 11.6 million students were enrolled at a community college (7.3 full-time). These numbers account for about half of the U.S. postsecondary student population. 

Closer to home, 59 percent of all SC residents enrolling as undergraduates at one of SC’s public colleges/universities during the fall 2011 semester attended one of the colleges within the SC Technical College System.

These large enrollment numbers highlight the increasing impact that community colleges are having on the education of postsecondary students in the United States.

The first phase of the initiative is curriculum development. To accomplish this, a team of instructors will participate in a comprehensive training program in March. At this training conference, Smoak said potential modules for the biology classes will be presented and critiqued as to what will work as research-based.

“They will help us develop a great model so there is no guess work on what’s the best,” said Lynn Mack, associate dean for instructional development and transfer. “It strengthens our curriculum and makes it easier for us to use best practices.”

This first initiative will focus on the biological sciences, but Mack says they will be addressing the need for research development in other curriculum areas including chemical sciences, engineering technology, public service and nursing.

“There is a misconception that research means being in a lab, slicing and dicing, and that’s not what it is,” said Smoak. “Research is about how you form a hypothesis and how you explore that hypothesis. For areas like public service, for instance, that means working in the service learning component and being able to write a reflection on what learning objective they met.”

Smoak said the research component will be added to the standard biology curriculum in the fall. The goal is the component will allow students to see applications of the sciences and help the students be ready to succeed when they transfer.

“While we’ve got the biology labs, this will allow them to get out in the community and do research,” said Mack. “That is one of our goals, to get them to see science in today’s world so they realize there is a career out there in science.”