LU STAIRSTEP projects provides undergraduate research for students

3/1/2011

Lamar University established an enrichment program Students Advancing through Involvement in Research Student Talent Expansion Project (STAIRSTEP) to increase the number of students earning degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. The National Science Foundation awarded a grant to fund the four-year project.

“STAIRSTEP gives students majoring in these disciplines an opportunity to participate in an enriched undergraduate research experience that includes faculty and peer mentoring, tutoring and other support,” said Peggy Doerschuk, professor of computer science and director of the program.

The program, now in its third year, targets at-risk undergraduate students who face social and economic challenges that could prevent them from completing degrees. At-risk students include women and minorities who are underrepresented in science, low-income and first-generation students. STAIRSTEP focuses on disciplines that have a demonstrated need for more graduates, both nationally and locally: chemistry, computer science, geoscience, mathematics, and physics.

Students receive competitive stipends to participate in research and outreach in small teams that include undergraduates from all class levels, freshmen through senior. Faculty mentors in the discipline lead the teams. In addition to Doerschuk, the mentors include Cristian Bahrim, associate professor of physics; Jennifer Daniel, associate professor of mathematics and assistant director of the program; Joseph Kruger, associate professor of earth and space sciences; and Christopher Martin, associate professor of chemistry. Judith Mann, assistant professor of psychology, is director of STAIRSTEP assessment, and Harvilynne McNeel is the program’s administrative associate.

“Team research is perhaps the most beneficial aspect of this program. Involving undergraduates in research is a recognized strategy for engaging students and encouraging them to pursue advanced degrees,” Doerschuk said. “Through the research, students experience the thrill of discovery and learn what it means to be a scientist.”

STAIRSTEP students get the chance to present their research at professional conferences. The conferences allow these students to display the hard work they have put into their research by presenting posters or talks about their research subjects, Doerschuk said. Students also gain experience in communicating their ideas and making formal presentations, giving them an advantage over other undergraduates who are not published.

The teams organize several outreach activities, including hosting on-campus tours, workshops and demonstrations, participating in LU open house, new student orientation, MathFest, other on-campus activities, and interacting with students in road shows and fairs for graduating high school and community college students. STAIRSTEP students also participate in research seminars, science career forums, and career counseling events hosted by the Career Center.

For more information about STAIRSTEP, contact Peggy Doerschuk at (409) 880-8782 or peggy.doerschuk@lamar.edu.