Once an idea, now a goal, Taylor Blalock, dual-enrolled Piedmont Community College (PCC) student and senior at Person Early College for Innovation and Leadership (PECIL), completed the CCURE course and found a greater passion for forensic science. Only offered during the spring semester, PCC is now enrolling students to join the Spring 2023 CCURE course to develop research skills, create professional relationships in their prospective career field, and earn four-year university credit.

CCURE, or Community College Undergraduate Research Experience, is a partnership with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW) to offer and teach an honors-level research course that counts toward a student’s four-year undergraduate bachelor’s degree, teaching them essential and foundational level research techniques and methods. The course is titled “Research and Discovery” with the goal of introducing students to undergraduate research to build their confidence before they transfer to a four-year university.

“CCURE graduates demonstrate growth in research skills, confidence in engaging in research, and comfort discussing research with faculty and peers, among other positive outcomes,” said Dr. James DeVita, Associate Professor and Director of High Impact Pathways at UNCW. “As one of our twelve community college partners, PCC’s CCURE participants gain access to UNCW campus resources and are connected to a UNCW faculty mentor during the course.”

“What makes this opportunity so beneficial and unique is that students get to choose their own research topic, and they do not have to pay tuition for the course since it is covered through CCURE,” said Dr. Bryan Ruffin, course instructor and advisor. “This class is about making students comfortable conducting research and building professional relationships. When students can research a topic of personal interest and connect with those already working in the field, it makes it that much more exciting and worthwhile.”

Blalock joined the course to improve her research skills, especially in forensics, so she chose fingerprinting analysis as her research topic. In PCC’s course, students are required to interview a professional in their prospective career field to build on this relationship for future employment and advice.

“I got to meet and interview Lieutenant Jason Howe from the Roxboro Police Department,” Blalock said. “He showed me all the equipment and materials they use to conduct investigations, and I was constantly interested in learning more.”

While Blalock was already interested in forensic science, being part of CCURE allowed her to take a trial run on the subject, reinforcing her passion that it is a career she wants to pursue.

“Detective Howe showed me how to pick up and compare fingerprints by using specific dust and tape, then examining them using point matches,” Blalock said. “But I also learned that there are many ways to find fingerprints and different focuses in forensics, like media, biology, and other criminalistics.”

“I always enjoy partnering with our schools and colleges because it reinforces the importance of establishing positive role models for our youth,” Howe said. “Programs such as the CCURE course prepare the next generation to unlock their potential to be tomorrow’s leaders and public servants within our communities.”

Toward the end of the semester, students from each participating community college presented their research during a virtual CCURE showcase — other students presented on beekeeping, environmental science, space, and many others.

“I think Taylor did a great job with her research,” Ruffin said. “It wasn’t always easy, but she persevered and successfully completed the course.”

“I am so glad that I was part of CCURE because I learned how to research better and make professional presentations, which I haven’t had to do yet since I’m still in high school,” Blalock said. “This class not only let me experience and learn about forensics up close, but it also helped me learn more about the research process, the best strategies to research, and how it will benefit me in my future career.”

Enrollment is open for the Spring 2023 CCURE course. Only ten slots are available, so interested students should enroll as soon as possible before the class is filled. Upon completing the course, students will receive university credit from UNCW that will transfer to several in-state universities. If students want to enroll or learn more, email Dr. Ruffin at bryan.ruffin@piedmontcc.edu. The course is scheduled to start in January.

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