February 6 RiSE Colloquium: Maya Patel speaks on Mentoring

The Maine Center for Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center)
and the University of Maine


Maya Patel
Department of Biology
Ithaca College

“Learning inquiry and nature of science through undergraduate research: mentoring matters”

Undergraduate research experiences (UREs) have the potential to involve students in authentic and cutting edge scientific inquiry.  While research has shown that UREs can be effective in recruiting and retaining students and increasing students’ confidence in their abilities to do research, the literature on science-learning through participation in UREs is scant.  My research investigated what students learned about the practice of scientific inquiry and the natures of scientific knowledge (NOS) and inquiry (NOSI) through participation in summer UREs in cutting edge biotechnology laboratories.  I also explored the types of research projects and intern-mentor transactions taking place in the UREs in order to explain students’ gains or lack of gains.  I employed a mixed-methods approach involving a pre-post assessment of gains and an exploratory investigation of the laboratory research situations.  In general, interns’ independent practice of inquiry was of the most basic skills (e.g. collecting and summarizing data), though their guided practice included many of the more advanced inquiry skills important in developing scientific thinking (e.g. design, evaluating evidence, revising hypotheses).   While few interns made gains in understandings about NOS, many made gains in understandings about NOSI.  NOSI gains were associated with greater autonomy and independent practice of more advanced inquiry skills.  The exploratory investigation found that mentors played a critical role in determining the type of research project and in driving the intern-mentor transaction.  These in turn, contributed to intern’s learning outcomes.  For example, multifaceted research projects (both observational and hypothesis-driven) provided more opportunities to practice advanced aspects of inquiry in this setting. Interns engaged in more indeterminate projects, where methods were less prescribed and outcomes less predictable, generally made greater gains in understandings about NOSI.

Speaker Bio:

Maya received a BS from Mount Holyoke College, where she studied Biology and Environmental Science, and a MS in Entomology from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.  From there Maya returned to the east coast where she taught biology at both Ithaca College and Georgetown University for several years.  She continues to serve as an instructor and Science Faculty Chair for GU’s Myer’s Institute for College Preparation (MICP) for inner-city youth.  Maya’s experiences in large-enrollment, gateway-science courses and as a mentor for students of color helped to revise her views of teaching and learning science in higher education.  She began working with fellow faculty to bring student-centered pedagogies into the large lecture and more inquiry into the teaching laboratory.  This work eventually lead her back to school to pursue a PhD in Education Cornell University.  Maya conducted her dissertation research on student learning through undergraduate research.  Her time at Cornell also afforded her several opportunities to engage in evaluation efforts of both undergraduate and graduate-level science education programs, and to participate in a K-12 teacher professional development program.  Maya is currently Assistant Professor of Biology at Ithaca College where she continues her efforts to bring student-centered and inquiry-based pedagogies to her large-enrollment and non-majors science courses.