Living and breathing science seems to pay off, according to research published in the Journal of College Science Teaching.

Kimberly Schneider, the director of undergraduate research at University of Central Florida, and her team recently published a study that looked at the university’s unique Learning Environment and Academic Research Network (LEARN) and found the focused program seems to be working.

The program, which began in 2011, is designed to increase academic success for first-generation and underrepresented students that are interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Through LEARN, first-year students are afforded the opportunity to live in the same residence hall, take specific courses together, work with mentors, and gain hands on experience through a 12-week research apprenticeship.

Schneider says the research indicates many early signs of success including higher GPA and retention rates, gains in critical thinking, exceeding recruitment goals, and high levels of engagement in academic and leadership experiences.

“LEARN provides STEM students with a strong academic and social foundation,” said Schneider. “Participants get involved with research their very first semester. The cohorts also benefit from working with a select group of 28 students in this structured living-learning community.”

In their first year, undergraduates admitted into the LEARN program take two classes together where they are introduced to research through tours of research facilities, learning about academic research in the classroom, and eventually being paired with graduate level master’s or doctoral students completing research thesis projects. These mentoring relationships prepare them for independent research in the future. The 12-week research apprenticeship gives students hands on experience, where they work with graduate student researchers.

Students receive frequent feedback from peers and faculty, and after successfully completing the first-year program, students venture off into other research programs offered by the university.

“Our main goal is to prepare students for success,” said Schneider.

Students who successfully complete all the requirements of the LEARN program are also awarded a small scholarship and continued benefits, such as priority registration.

The LEARN program is run through the UCF Office of Undergraduate Research and was developed through a National Science Foundation grant. Co-authors on the paper are Amelia Bickel, a coordinator of graduate students at UCF and Alison Morrison-Shetlar, the provost at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee North Carolina.

For more information about the LEARN program visit,