By Wendy Sarubbi | March 18, 2011 1:40 pm

Faculty members at the College of Medicine’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences are expanding their undergraduate mentoring programs to give increasing numbers of young scientists hands-on research training experience and peer networking opportunities.

Molecular Biology and Microbiology is now the second most popular major at UCF and the Burnett School recently added a new Biotechnology major. All of these programs are seeing increased enrollment because “this century is the century of biology,” said Dr. Ken Teter, an associate professor and mentor at the Burnett school.

The increasing number of young scientists requested more “hands-on training in the research environment because the best way to learn something is to do it,” said Dr. Teter, whose research specialty is infectious disease.

In response, Burnett school faculty members have created several new programs:

  • In the Peer Instruction and Laboratory Occupational Training (PILOT) program, top undergraduate students in the Quantitative Biological Methods (QBM) class are selected as Teaching Assistants. They return to the class to provide lab instruction, design lab protocols and teaching materials and participate in their own independent research projects with faculty members. This semester, approximately 30 Teaching Assistants are helping with eight QBM labs a week. “Their research has been very impressive,” said Dr. Robert Borgon, instructor at the Burnett school. “These undergraduate students are not only getting lab experience, they are getting experience in teaching and making presentations. There’s no better way to learn than to teach something to someone else.”
  • Beginning this summer, the Group Effort Applied Research (GEAR) program will provide a more efficient way for faculty members to mentor undergraduates. Before GEAR, students trained and worked with a faculty member on a 1-to-1 basis. While that method was meaningful to a handful of students, it didn’t reach all students who desired a mentor. Under GEAR, undergraduates receive training in research methods in small batches of about 12, receive an independent lab project and are mentored by the research methods instructor.
  • In the fall, the UCF Office of Undergraduate Research also will begin a new program for all freshmen science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students. The students will be placed on the same floor of a dorm. Through the joint residence, mentoring and other programs, the university hopes to “reach young scientists in their first year and keep them excited and engaged,” Dr. Teter said. Burnett school students will be participating in the STEM program, which recently received funding from the National Science Foundation.
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