Early exposure to STEM research as a foundational experience for STEM careers

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Marianna Savoca
Karen Kernan
Catherine Scott
Mónica F. Bugallo


The benefits of undergraduate research to student persistence and success has been established in the literature. Less studied, however, is the long term impact of early exposure to research among students from underserved backgrounds.This qualitative study of undergraduates participating in a unique summer research program uncovers the deeper meaning of the overall experience on the students: from the lab itself, to the mentors, peers, professional development, socials, and the impact of the program staff. Three major themes emerged: (1) Early exposure to research as a foundation for career direction; (2) Relationships with peers and mentors as highly valued; and (3) Development of skills leads to personal and professional growth, and confidence. Additionally, underrepresented students described the value of having minority role models and peers, and the excitement of continuing their research throughout their undergraduate careers. A full compensation package of stipend and housing made a practical difference for several of the participants. This qualitative study offers a deeper understanding of these impacts through the voices of the participants. 

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How to Cite
Savoca, M., Kernan, K., Scott, C., & Bugallo, M. (2023). Early exposure to STEM research as a foundational experience for STEM careers. Experiential Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, 6(1), 46-55. https://doi.org/10.46787/elthe.v6i1.3567
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Author Biographies

Marianna Savoca, Stony Brook University

Marianna Savoca leads comprehensive career development and experiential education at Stony Brook University and holds an appointment as research associate professor in the Higher Education Administration program. She has published a book, two book chapters, and several journal articles and has served in leadership roles in national and international professional associations focused on experiential education, career readiness, and diversity talent pipelining. Her contributions have been recognized with several awards, including a Fulbright for International Educators, AAC&U Faculty Fellowship, SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence, and the Distinguished Alumna Award from Indiana University. She earned a PhD from Colorado State University, MS from Indiana University, and BS from SUNY Binghamton.


Karen Kernan, Stony Brook University

Karen Kernan directs the URECA undergraduate research program at Stony Brook University, and the Simons Summer Research Program, an elite high school summer research program which attracts top students from across the country A recipient of the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Professional Service, Kernan has over 20 years of experience in cultivating faculty and student involvement in undergraduate research programs, and is a co-PI/administrator for Explorations in STEM, an innovative program run in partnership with the Career Center. Her previous professional experience includes editing scientific manuscripts for submission to peer-reviewed journals; and assisting with in-house editing and production of Applied Population Ecology and Quantitative Methods of Risk Assessment.  Karen earned an MA from Harvard University in English and American Literature and Language, and a BA from Cornell University in English.

Catherine Scott, Stony Brook University

Catherine Scott is the inaugural Director of Educational Effectiveness at Stony Brook University, where she leads a team to develop and enhance educational effectiveness across the university, leveraging strong relationships with faculty and assessment expertise through more than a decade of experience is assessment, testing, and evaluation. She serves as lead program evaluator for several grant proposals and awarded projects. She holds two master's degrees from Stony Brook University (political science and higher education administration), and a bachelor's degree in political science from Dowling College. 

Mónica F. Bugallo, Stony Brook University

Mónica F. Bugallo is the Vice Provost of Faculty Affairs and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Stony Brook University. She received her B.S., M.S, and Ph. D. degrees in computer science and engineering from University of A Coruña, Spain. She joined the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Stony Brook University in 2002. Her research interests are in the field of statistical signal processing, with emphasis on the theory of Monte Carlo methods and its application to different disciplines including biomedicine, ecology, sensor networks, and finance. In addition, she has focused on STEM education and has initiated several successful programs with the purpose of engaging students at all academic stages in the excitement of engineering and research, with focus on underrepresented groups. She has authored and coauthored two book chapters and more than 210 journal papers and refereed conference articles.  She has received several prestigious research and education awards including the State University of New York (SUNY) Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching (2017), the 2019 Ada Byron Award of the Galician Society of Computer Engineers (Spain) for a successful professional career path that inspires women to engineering study and careers, the Best Paper Award in the IEEE Signal Processing Magazine 2007 as coauthor of a paper entitled Particle Filtering, the IEEE Outstanding Young Engineer Award (2009), for development and application of computational methods for sequential signal processing, the IEEE Athanasios Papoulis Award (2011), for innovative educational outreach that has inspired high school students and college level women to study engineering, the Higher Education Resource Services (HERS) Clare Boothe Luce (CBL) Scholarship Award (2017), and the Chair of Excellence by the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid-Banco de Santander (Spain) (2012).