Bellevue College: Bringing Research to Undergraduates

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Not long ago, it was rare for an undergraduate student to become involved in scientific research. These days, however, most graduate school-bound undergraduates do laboratory or field work beyond what's required. Undergraduate research gives students a taste of what a career in science would be like and an edge in applying for graduate schools and jobs. But the edge isn't what it used to be, because many graduate schools and employers have come to expect it.

In a move to ensure that Bellevue College students are school- and work-ready, campus leaders are working to develop the Bellevue College RISE (Research, Innovation, Service and Experiential Learning) Institute and have named Dr. Gita Bangera as Dean of Undergraduate Research. In this newly created position, Bangera will support campus undergraduate research efforts through grant-funded projects, curriculum development, faculty support, and partnerships with other research labs, industry, and community organizations. 

"This position is designed to enhance and further the college's existing program in undergraduate research, pioneered by Dr. Bangera, including the creation and oversight of a new RISE Institute, which will have a campus-wide approach to infusing research experiences into a wide variety of curriculum," said Bellevue College President Dr. David Rule. "Our own data, which is strongly supported by information received from local employers and national organizations such as the National Science Foundation, show that this type of hands-on, original research is one of the best ways to significantly improve student success and retention."

Bangera will develop RISE from the ground up—including physical planning, coordinating faculty research projects, coordinating and developing undergraduate research projects, developing curriculum to support undergraduate research classes and programs, and identifying funding and partnership opportunities on both the local and national level. Bangera will also serve as the college's primary liaison with the National Science Foundation.

"The idea is to empower students to take control of their educational experience—to understand that learning is so much more than sitting in a lecture and that sometimes your teacher doesn't know the answer—but that you can find one (or many) together," Bangera said. 

In addition to her new role, Bangera is a prolific genomics researcher and the driving force behind Bellevue College's current participation in the Community College Genomics Research Initiative (ComGen), which Science magazine identified as one of the pioneering community college research projects in the nation. In this course, students perform original research by sequencing the genome of a bacterium that fights a wheat fungus. They also analyze primary research articles and interact frequently with scientists. Bangera also participates in CURE-NET, a nationwide faculty consortium developing classroom-based undergraduate research experiences.

The establishment of RISE on the Bellevue College campus comes as Dr. Rule joined President Obama, the First Lady, and Vice President Biden, along with hundreds of college presidents and other higher education leaders, on Dec. 4, 2014, to announce new actions to help more students prepare for and graduate from college during The White House College Opportunity Day of Action.  

Through this event, Bellevue College committed to creating more opportunities for students to engage in STEM education and pursue careers in STEM-related fields.

In addition to the RISE Institute, Bellevue College is constructing of a state-of-the-art 70,000-square-foot health sciences building, and putting further resources into robust programming in healthcare careers, including three bachelor's degrees, six associate's degrees, and numerous certificates.

"STEM education is vital to our future—the future of our country, the future of our region, and the future of our children," Dr. Rule said. "The U.S. Labor Department predicts the 10 fastest growing occupations from 2008-2018 to be STEM-related and with median salaries that will help fuel our economy. At Bellevue College, we've taken these trends to heart; we're actively working to meet these current and future needs and the RISE Institute is one of the main ways in which we plan to do just that!"