Return to Program Profiles Mars Hill University

Mars Hill University used the CIC/Walmart College Success Award to establish Research FIRST, a program that expands upon a successful undergraduate research program. At Mars Hill, many students engage in original research, working with dedicated faculty mentors. Through this activity students develop writing and speaking skills, gain experience in budgeting and project management, and acquire a deepened understanding of ethics and responsibility in leadership—all of which promote self-confidence. Research FIRST expanded undergraduate research and provided participants with opportunities for on-campus and off-campus presentations of research, research-related travel, and faculty-mentored cultural enrichment. A book fund for first-generation students as well as a special section of Liberal Arts in Action—a seminar for first-time, first-year students— also were part of the project. The program helped more than 60 students complete a substantive grant-supported project, research-related excursion, or conference presentation. Faculty members mentored all activities. Moreover, all activities required students to participate with an academic rigor that exceeded the normal expectations of their regularly scheduled classes.

Program Outcomes

Although retention rates were lower than the goals set by the college in its proposal, retention rates improved during the program. Prior to the CIC/Walmart College Success Award project the retention rate (since 2001) of first-year students was 40 percent, and the retention rate of second-year students was 30 percent. Since the CIC/Walmart Award program began, the retention rates of first-year and second-year students have increased to 53 percent and 42 percent, respectively.
Overall, the grant-funded research component of the project proved highly successful. During the 2010–2011 and 2011–2012 academic years, 29 projects were funded to do student‐initiated, faculty‐mentored research. Two levels of funding ($750 and $500) supported grant-funded research for students. In addition, three other projects were funded to do faculty-initiated research involving first-generation students.
The successful effort to expand undergraduate research at Mars Hill was consistent with the college’s strategic plan. Thus, Research FIRST increased the scope and success of this institutional goal, affirmed the positive outcomes of engaging first-generation students in original research, and strengthened the institution.

Program Updates

As a result of the program’s success, the college established an office of undergraduate research and continues to support the work of first-generation students in this area. First-generation students may apply for a $500 Student Liberal Arts Mozaic grant of $250 for faculty mentors and $250 for project expenses.