Yakima Valley College provides research opportunities to undergraduate students

Yakima, Wash. — Yakima Valley College continues to be a leader among Washington state community colleges in offering research opportunities to undergraduate students. Since 2012 YVC has collaborated with area 4-year institutions and community partners to help nearly 200 students participate in hands-on projects not typically available on community college campuses.

“Undergraduate research is an immersion in science. It can have days of toil and repetition, then suddenly you are in the thrill of gathering knowledge. What was hidden becomes recognized,” stated Biology Instructor and STEM Grant Director Matthew Loeser.

Projects have been conducted in a variety of disciplines including biology, chemistry, nutrition, engineering, physics, mathematics, psychology, geology and computer science.

Instructor Suki Smaglik says research projects have helped her students gain valuable experience and develop skills not always available through a classroom environment.

“Undergraduate research experiences can give students more confidence, team-building skills on par with team sports and increased critical thinking abilities that will serve themselves and their communities well beyond their education,” Smaglik said.

Each student researcher or research team works with a faculty mentor who oversees the project and provides support. In addition, each student receives a stipend.

During the 2019-2020 academic year, 25 YVC students participated in research projects. Of these 48% were women and 64% were underrepresented minorities — two groups that are typically underrepresented in STEM professions.

Instructor Heidi Shaw highlighted how these projects help students gain additional confidence by enabling them to develop deeper expertise in academic subjects.

“I think they appreciate the new traits in themselves that come from developing a deep understanding of something, like being able to ask meaningful questions, supporting their positions with evidence, and having the confidence in their knowledge to have a defensible opinion,” Shaw said. “I think they develop a sense of pride in themselves. I think they start holding themselves to a higher standard than they had before because they see how effort, precision and clear writing, for example, matter in the context of research.”

Student researchers also have experienced an 83-100% success rate, as measured annually by those who graduate, transfer to another institution or continue their studies.

Shaw also noted that these projects have helped students feel like they belong, many for the first time.

“I think students develop new social skills. For some, I think being a member of my team was the first time they felt like they fit in. In this context, they develop an ability to accept teasing and critique without it feeling like bullying. In some cases, I think that students develop an appreciation for people who they might not normally choose as a friend.”

Projects are made possible through grant funding from the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Education, Heritage University and Central Washington University.

YVC receives additional support from various community partners including Yakima Chief, Washington State University, Washington State Department of Transportation, Yakima Health District, Kittitas Health District and Washington State Department of Ecology.

This year’s national celebration of Undergraduate Research Week is taking place April 19-23. For more information on YVC’s STEM programs visit yvcc.edu/STEM.

Press Release Contacts:
Dustin Wunderlich / 509.574.6870 / dwunderlich@yvcc.edu
Stefanie Menard / 509.574.4646 / smenard@yvcc.edu