COS 159-8 - Evaluating a hybrid model of an undergraduate ecology internship program

Thursday, August 10, 2017: 4:00 PM
B114, Oregon Convention Center
Jennifer J. Long1, Sarah Kimball1, Travis E. Huxman2 and Paige Austin1, (1)Center for Environmental Biology, UC Irvine, (2)Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA

Calls for reform in undergraduate ecology education emphasize the value of undergraduate research. Many universities offer undergraduate research experiences: undergraduate research experiences (UREs), defined by a one-to-one instructor-to-student ratio, or course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs), in which research projects are integrated into courses, making the instructor-to-student ratio much higher. The purpose of this research was to evaluate a hybrid model, where students both attend a class and work in the field with community partners. This structure provides opportunities for students to leverage course-based collaboration while engaging in one-on-one research experiences. Specifically, we asked: 1) What is the effectiveness of this hybrid model in influencing interns’ beliefs about their ability to engage in research and to link academic research with ecosystem management? and 2) Were interns satisfied with their experience? Data were drawn from one cohort (N=13) and included 1) pre-/post-survey to elicit interns’ self-reported assessment of outcomes and 2) semi-structured interview to elicit in-depth information regarding intern experiences related to outcomes. Data analysis consisted of comparing pre-/post-means of survey items and used grounded theory to capture the ranges of issues interns expressed and the ways in which they interpreted their experiences related to participation in the program.


Preliminary results suggested that the hybrid model was effective in influencing interns’ beliefs about their abilities to engage in research and link academic research to ecosystem management. Analysis of pre-/post-surveys indicated that interns made statistically significant gains in their understanding of multiple facets of research and the relationship between restoration ecology and ecological restoration. Analysis of interviews suggested mechanisms underlying program effectiveness, including the integration of theory and practice as interns collaborated with instructors and interns in class and then worked closely with supervisors in the field; the variety of research experiences across multiple community partners in which they engaged; and the supportive relationships that interns developed with field supervisors. Interviews suggested areas for improvement, including the need to better support interns in developing a deeper understanding of the “big picture” of ecological research and the ways in which research questions and data collection and analysis are related to and arise from the “big picture.” This understanding was particularly challenging for interns who focused on data collection and had limited exposure to developing questions and analyzing data. Lessons learned were used to make strategic revisions to the model, including developing a course-/field-based research project designed and carried out by interns.