The award will help advance the interdisciplinary Program in Inquiry and Investigation.
In a fortuitous merging of two of Texas Tech University's highest priorities, its commitment to diversity is now benefiting its commitment to undergraduate research.
In May, Texas Tech University achieved official designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) from the U.S. Department of Education, making it eligible for up to $10 million in additional funding to support the enhancement of educational opportunities for all students. The university has now received its first such grant.
The HSI Education Grants Program, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), has given Texas Tech a four-year, $274,281 grant to support the university's interdisciplinary Program in Inquiry and Investigation (Pi2).
"It is not a coincidence that diversity and undergraduate research have been emphasized at both the university level and within our proposal, since both have demonstrably positive impacts on the educational experience," said Matthew Barnes, an assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resources Management and one of the investigators on the grant. "Diversity benefits research and the classroom by increasing the number of perspectives, sets of skills and potential creativity used to address encountered questions and challenges. Likewise, undergraduate research challenges students to develop skills – especially critical thinking – in a direct way that can be hard to achieve through classroom instruction alone."
Pi2 began in the fall of 2017 with five cohorts:
• Arts, archaeology, cultures, music and social sciences (13 things)
• Engineering and process sciences: Meeting humanity's challenges in the 21st century
• Mathematical and physical sciences
• Health and environmental sciences: How to address human health concerns in an interconnected age
• Genetics, molecular biology and natural sciences: Life sciences in the 21st century
Through the grant, Pi2 now will develop a new cohort – Food, agriculture, natural resources and human sciences – and recruit Hispanic students to participate in all Pi2 cohorts.
NIFA's HSI Education Grants Program promotes and strengthens the ability of HSIs to carry out education, applied research and related community development projects to attract, retain and graduate students capable of enhancing the nation's food, agricultural, natural resource and human sciences workforce. To that end, Pi2 will see some changes intended to build community and enhance the skills of undergraduate researchers in the program.
Pi2 scholars remain in their respective cohort throughout the first year, learning how to conduct undergraduate research and making connections in the university's current undergraduate research infrastructure by attending the Research Carnival, hosted by the Center for the Integration of STEM Education & Research (CISER), and the Undergraduate Research Conference (URC), hosted by the Center for Transformative Undergraduate Experiences (TrUE).
After the first year, scholars advance into faculty research laboratories, where they may continue through their senior year. To provide them opportunities to practice preparing and presenting their research in a formal setting, Pi2 scholars are required to present at URC each year. To foster leadership skills and develop a culture of mentorship within the program, scholars are required to present each year at either the Research Carnival or a first-year cohort meeting.
According to the grant proposal, an estimated 400 undergraduate students will benefit from participation in the program. Not only will they gain greater support for their independent research efforts, they also can receive research stipends, travel grants and leadership opportunities associated with a newly incorporated Pi2 student organization.
Other investigators on the grant are Allie Smith, an assistant professor in the Honors College, and Michael San Francisco, dean of the Honors College and a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences.
This work is supported by NIFA-HSI grant 2019-38422-30533 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.