CNM Faculty Member Receives $1.2 Million in Grant Funding to Help CNM Students With National Research Project

Melanie Will-Cole is using the grant to fund the Meta Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experience (M-CURE), a first of it's kind community college research program designed to empower underrepresented students to pursue STEM careers
October 19, 2023

Melanie Will-Cole knows the value of research skills. She had a career as a research scientist at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and is now spearheading the Meta Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experience (M-CURE) program for CNM students.

"Having the opportunity to conduct research during my undergraduate years is what ultimately inspired me to pursue the career I have today, and I'm excited and hopeful this program will have the same impact on CNM students," Melanie says.

Melanie has been developing the M-CURE program since 2021. That’s the year she read about the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect. This phenomenon occurs in cities when natural land cover is replaced by heat-absorbing materials, elevating the overall temperature. Albuquerque, one of the top ten cities affected, presented an opportunity for Melanie to bring relevant research experience to students.

After refining her proposal with input from the National Science Foundation, Melanie was awarded a $1.2 million grant in April. This funding will support the M-CURE program at CNM for the next five years, and each student cohort will spend three terms studying and reporting on the UHI effect. The M-CURE program is specifically designed to empower underrepresented students to pursue STEM careers.

"This program is truly one of a kind for both New Mexico and community colleges," Melanie explains. "Students can usually only have this kind of research experience at a four-year institution, and I'm really grateful to be able to bring it to students who may not have had the opportunity otherwise."

Over the three terms they’re involved, CNM students will learn foundational science principles, develop and conduct their own authentic research about the UHI effect, and analyze and share their findings with national partners including the National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS), Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Additionally, students will attend professional development workshops and serve as STEM Ambassadors, mentoring high school students and sharing their findings with the City of Albuquerque and Mayor Tim Keller. Upon completion of the program, students will receive a $6,300 stipend for their time and contributions.

Now, Melanie is focused on preparing for the first student cohort, which is set to start in the Spring 2024 term. She can't wait to get started.

"I'm of course excited to do research again since it's been so critical in my own career. But I'm most excited to see how this program will impact students and hopefully inspire them to pursue a STEM career," she says. "The U.S. is experiencing a labor shortage in the physical sciences, and I think this program is the perfect opportunity to excite first-generation, women, and Latinx students to pursue these rewarding and well-paying careers."

Interested in applying to the M-CURE program? Learn more about the program and apply on the M-CURE webpage. Applications are due Nov. 7.