Our experience in the Cary Institute's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program over the last 22 years continues to reaffirm that undergraduates flourish with the opportunity to do their own research while simultaneously reflecting on the scientific enterprise and considering its broader intellectual, social and personal contexts. Some of the innovative techniques developed in this program include:
- A different case study each summer where students address the two-way interaction between ecological science and public policy.
- Involving the undergraduates in near-peer teaching of urban students where they have to make their research accessible to youth.
- A full-day career forum from which we are building a web-based collection of profiles about diverse careers, pathways and applications in ecology.
- Several probing discussions of such issues as fostering and celebrating diversity in ecology, the basic-to-applied continuum in ecology research, and the role of theory and ethics in ecology.
The exceptional quality of student work in the program, the very positive and insightful comments made by students on exit and alumni surveys, and the high level of retention of our alumni in science indicate the success of the programs on many fronts.
Research now is underway to document variation in outcomes among our REU participants, to explore the role of specific experiences here and/or external factors in explaining this variation.