A pioneering program is coming to UCF where first year students will live and learn together while becoming research apprentices, an experience usually reserved for juniors and seniors.

The Learning Environment and Academic Research Network (L.E.A.R. N.) will provide a living and learning community where students will live in a residence hall and take three courses together– a freshman seminar, English and an introduction to research course tailored specifically for the program.

The National Science Foundation funded LEARN to increase retention in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) disciplines for first generation and minority students at UCF.

The program’s structure will offer a small learning environment in a large research university setting. Studies suggest this approach leads to higher grade point averages, increased interaction with faculty and peers, and increased campus involvement.

Participants also will work three hours a week with graduate students and faculty mentors as part of a research apprenticeship. They will obtain hands-on experience while learning laboratory techniques, helping process data and assisting with experiments.

Associate Professor Kenneth Teter, one of the mentors in the program, said the program will give students a chance to apply what they learn in the classroom in the real world setting of a research lab.

“There is an excitement and energy in the research environment that needs to be experienced to be appreciated,” said Teter who works in the Burnett School for Biomedical Sciences in the area of infectious disease. “If we can expose our students to the culture of research early in their college careers, we will be more likely to capture their imaginations and retain them in the major.”

Participants will work with mentors throughout their undergraduate experience. Successful completion of the program will make the students outstanding candidates for more intense research programs during their junior and senior years, said Kimberly Schneider, director for the Office of Undergraduate Research which houses LEARN. The Research and Mentoring Program (RAMP) and McNair Scholars are among the upper level undergraduate programs available at UCF.

RAMP is a four-semester opportunity for juniors to become progressively more involved in a faculty member’s research agenda. The McNair Program provides an educational experience for students from underrepresented groups, first generation and low income students to excel as undergraduates, prepare for graduate school and ultimately enter faculty positions.

Applications are currently being accepted for LEARN’s inaugural class this coming fall. Prospective students must plan to major in a STEM discipline and live on campus.  To apply for one of the 28 spots available, visit LEARN and register for on-campus housing through UCF Housing and Residence Life. The program will begin reviewing applications on May 1, 2011. 

About LEARN: Schneider designed the program to address the need for research opportunities for freshmen. The program is modeled after the Michigan Research Community, a living and learning community at The University of Michigan.