The Art of Crafting a Mentored CURE
by Buffie Longmire-Avital
In my last post, I argued that course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) can be a stepping stone for a student’s path toward mentored undergraduate research, but to yield equitable impact for historically underrepresented minority students (HURMS), CUREs must include mentorship (Baker & Griffin, 2010; Schwartz, 2012). In this post, I offer an example of mentored CURE.
Dr. Damion Blake is an assistant professor of political science and policy studies at Elon University. He is also a member of the African & African-American Studies interdisciplinary minor advisory committee. As a faculty member committed to this program, Dr. Blake created the interdisciplinary course, The Black Man in America. The catalyst for this course was student driven; Black-identified students requested more courses that spoke directly to their lived experiences and centered Blackness. The conceptualization – the content, organization, and learning outcomes – were in the hands of the faculty member who took on the challenge of the course creation and instruction. When I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Blake to discuss his motivation for applying the CURE model to this course, I learned that this course is not an example of the CURE Bangera and Brownell discuss in their essay; rather, it is an example of a mentored CURE. Further, what I love about the inclusion of a CURE framework within this course is that not only does it address curriculum equity needs, but it also is situated in a course that draws HURMS to enroll, which introduces undergraduate research to a population of students who are often overlooked through the traditional models of recruitment.
According to Blake, he created this course as a way to deeply explore the interactions Black men have with the police, what he calls a “zero sum game, that is the historical and contemporary reality of the Black male body.” His students are asked to engage with multiple theories throughout the course, and an emphasis is placed not just on the students’ ability to recall theories or arguments but on their engagement with the analytical pieces of theoretical development. Blake anticipated and hoped that this deep dive would produce questions followed by a desire to seek out the answers. Blake is clearly embracing the fourth framework of a CURE: purposely seeking answers to unknown questions.
Blake initially believed that having students craft a research proposal steeped in their emerging questions would be a way for students to immediately tackle the connections, assumptions, and challenging thoughts developing over the semester. The inclusion of a research proposal is a useful tool for developing students’ research writing capabilities but a proposal is not sufficient for a CURE. The students “need to do the research.” This is the next step of Dr. Blake’s assignment. Students are tasked with writing a proposal that aligns with the collaborative umbrella study being conducted by the class, which is exploring the experiences of Black males on Elon’s campus, and is an example of the third framework for establishing a CURE: the examination of broad relevant topics. The class is then charged to work collaboratively (the second framework) to collect data and answer the global unifying question.
Students are asked to focus on either Black male staff, administration, students, or faculty. Students are then tasked with interviewing 4 – 5 persons in their specific population of focus. The interview data they collect will be used to address the aims of their specific research proposals and feed into the overarching research mission that Blake has constructed for the class. Prior to collecting the data (in this case, participant interviews), Blake spends ample time giving the class ethics training in addition to basic interviewing skills training. The process of collecting data, analyzing, and ethics training are all examples of engaging students in scientific practices (i.e., the first framework).
Blake is not a passive participant in this class study. Throughout the course, students will meet with Blake for what he calls “in-class consultations.” During these consults Dr. Blake will tease out and work through each section of the research project, similar to what an undergraduate research student would do with their research mentor. When Dr. Blake first taught the class, he had a smaller class size, but this is quickly becoming an incredibly popular class and the size has increased. Blake has not lost the mentorship component but has had to modify his approach. Instead of meeting one-on-one, he will group students based either on their population of study or topic and then have group consultations. Blake is balancing the fact that these are individual papers but feedback is collaborative. This approach also introduces lateral mentorship, where students serve as resources for other students in the class. The ongoing exchange of feedback, collaborative work, and the genesis of question-to-proposal-to-data collection-to-analysis-and-interpretation is a powerful example of iteration throughout the course, the fifth and final framework of a CURE.
This class is only in its third year, however students consistently report back to Dr. Blake that they not only thoroughly enjoyed the research process (the initial exposure for many students) but that this process allowed them to ask deeper questions and directly apply knowledge gained in class. Students not only saw this as an opportunity to find answers or meaning for their particular study, they were able to see themes emerge across the different groups. For instance, Blake reflected on the conversation students recently had over the emergence of “cool pose,” a coping strategy that Black men embrace to signal that they are non-threatening. Students read analytical papers on this concept and then were able to see across the individual studies and data collected incidences of this phenomenon.
Finally, many students got the research fever. Blake receives emails from current and former students that contain links to articles or notes on films and shows they have seen that reflect concepts discussed or researched in the course. These students have become the embodiment of lifelong learners. The constant seeking out of Dr. Blake and his willingness to engage are also indicative of the mentorship role he continues to play for these students. In 2017, the Black Student Union recognized Dr. Damion Blake’s teaching and mentorship with the Wilhelmina Boyd Community Service award. This recognition was driven largely by the campaign his Black Man in America students launched. It is another testament of how his engagement in high impact practices made a critical step forward in the pursuit of diversity, inclusion and equity.
I personally am grateful for Dr. Blake’s mentored CURE, because one of my strongest research students credits this class for waking him up to the possibility of research.
- Baker, V. L., & Griffin, K. A. (2010). Beyond mentoring and advising: Toward understanding the role of faculty “developers” in student success. About Campus, 14(6), 2-8.
- Bangera, G., & Brownell, S. E. (2014). Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences Can Make Scientific Research More Inclusive. CBE Life Sciences Education, 13(4), 602–606. http://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.14-06-0099
- Schwartz, J. (2012). Faculty as undergraduate research mentors for students of color: Taking into account the costs. Science Education, 96(3), 527-542.
Buffie Longmire-Avital, associate professor of psychology and coordinator of African and African-American studies, is the 2018-2020 Center for Engaged Learning Scholar. Dr. Longmire-Avital’s CEL Scholar project focuses on diversity and inclusion in high-impact practices.