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Breaking the Undergraduate Research Barrier

Traditionally, community colleges are not associated with many opportunities for academic research. In fact, it's uncommon for undergraduate students to gain any research experience—period.

But College of DuPage is proving that opportunity is where you make it.

"Several factors make College of DuPage unique among community colleges in our ability to provide research opportunities for students," said COD Physics Professor Tom Carter. "Probably most significant is that many COD faculty have retained their strong industry and research ties. This means that along with getting access to our state-of-the-art educational facilities and labs, our students get a great chance for learning outside the classroom in a real-life setting. The College really supports a very hands-on approach to learning."

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Separated by only 11 miles, Fermilab and COD partnerships provide first class research opportunities to students. (photo courtesy of Fermilab)

College of DuPage also happens to be near two national labs—Argonne and Fermilab. These two labs have provided a number of research and internship opportunities to COD students, including through the U.S. Department of Energy Community College Internship (CCI) program, an initiative available only to community college students that encourages participants to enter technical careers by providing training experiences at national DOE laboratories.

Additional research opportunities for COD students, including prestigious internships at Illinois State University, Fermilab and Hope College, were made possible by a grant from the College Foundation's Resource for Excellence Grant program, designed to foster educational innovation.

According to COD Assistant Professor of Chemistry Gary Roby, research opportunities provide students several important benefits.

"Research is an invaluable experience for undergraduate students," said Roby. "Students get a chance to explore their interests, get out of the textbook and into the real world, and gain a professional reference that carries real weight."

While a student at COD, Jamie McGinty took part in a research trip offered through the College's Field Studies program to the Archaeological and Bioarchaeological Field School in the Czech Republic. After discovering a strong interest in archaeology while at COD, he thought the Field School would provide a great opportunity to discover if he really enjoyed the work before pursuing it as a career path. As it turned out, he loved it.

"You engage both physically and mentally with the material," said McGinty. "The theory you learn in the classroom is useful, but you don't really know until you're doing the work in the field."

The Field School, provided in partnership with Masaryk University-Brno since 2004, offers five weeks of research experience at an excavation site dating to the 9th century. After that initial trip, McGinty was invited back to take part in Field School two more times. During his second visit, under the supervision of COD Associate Professor Michael Dietz, he completed his capstone project to earn his bachelor's in anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. On his third visit, he participated as an independent researcher further exploring the analysis methods used for his capstone project.

"Having this experience definitely makes you stand out when applying and as a student," McGinty said. "Many third-year students there didn't have experience in research at all."

Closer to home, former COD student Ina Furxhi participated in a prestigious summer chemistry research internship at Northwestern University's Materials Research Science and Engineering Center during which she explored how algae can be used to create biofuel and nutraceuticals. Planning to pursue further research opportunities when she enters medical school in fall 2015, she said it is very important for undergraduates to take part in research early in their college careers.

"The earlier the exposure to these types of opportunities, the better," Furxhi said. "It can help you determine what you are really interested in. By knowing your interests and passions early in your educational career, the easier your decision will be when choosing a career path."

While at College of DuPage, Eftalda Becka was part of a summer science research program at ISU and part of an astro-chemistry summer internship at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she later earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. Currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering at the University of Colorado, she credits COD and the research opportunities she participated in for motivating her to pursue a career in research.

"Taking part in undergraduate research is one of the most important things you can do if you want to pursue a career in research or an advanced degree," Becka said. "It not only provides you with crucial hands-on and technical skills, it also looks great on your resume and helps to get future research opportunities."

Long-Distance Teaching

Dale Simpson

Students aren't the only ones doing research at College of DuPage. Dale Simpson has been visiting Rapa Nui, commonly called Easter Island, since 2001. An adjunct professor of Anthropology at COD since 2009, and full time during the 2010-2011 academic year, he is currently on the remote Polynesian island researching ancient archaeological sites. At the same time, he manages to share his expertise with students by teaching online classes at COD.

"Instead of having my students learn everything from a book and classrooms with walls that cannot speak, I give them a living example," Simpson said. "Students come to COD for experience, knowledge and know-how, things I am proud to deliver through my research and my life."


Contact Information

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College of DuPage

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