Cognitive and Social Benefits Among Underrepresented First-Year Biology Students in a Field Course: A Case Study of Experiential Learning in the Galápagos
Keywords:Experiential learning, Field course, First-year, Undergraduate, Underrepresented, Study abroad, Education abroad
Student attrition is a persistent challenge in the life sciences, particularly among underrepresented minorities, first-generation students, and women. Experiential learning through short-term study abroad opportunities diversify curricula by immersing students into non-traditional academic environments. However, most experiential learning and study abroad opportunities are primarily available to upper-division undergraduates. Here, we present a qualitative analysis of an experiential learning opportunity offered exclusively to first-year U.S. undergraduate students from underrepresented demographics. We performed ethnographic observations of a 10-day field component in the Galápagos Islands, and analyzed self-reported survey results and field journals. Students consistently reported strong cognitive gains in their understanding of basic evolutionary concepts. Most students also benefited socially, although we observed higher variation in self-reported social gains. Our findings suggest that immersive field courses may increase scientific literacy and retention of underrepresented students by engaging them in experience-driven learning.
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