To build a “research culture” among undergraduate students, the Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá has been conducting for the last three years what is known as the Scientific Initiation Journey (JIC). This program consists of introducing a research project as part of the classroom activities which will result in a presentation, a publishable scientific paper, and a poster. The program inspiration came from the work done in one of the UTP-Centro Regional de Veraguas, since 2002 [UTP Regional Center of Veraguas] by Dr Alexis Tejedor, who has been using the project-based learning technique in his class for over a decade.
This initiative for the promotion of research from early stages in the training of university students, since 2015 has the funding of the National Secretariat of Science, Technology and Innovation of the Republic of Panama and also the Deveaux Foundation. Students choose their own project within the boundaries of the subject. This contributes to their enthusiasm and ensures a diversity of topics. Some of these projects have gone on to win international competitions. The key to the success of these projects is for the professor to take the role of a senior research advisor. They suggest an intriguing question directly linked to the course they are teaching which is also practical enough to develop into a research project.
Students form groups of 2 to 4 individuals and use the scientific method find answers to the problem. Participation is encouraged from the freshman year. At the end of the semester, all the projects are presented to a panel of external judges that consider the written scientific article, the oral presentation, and the poster. The projects are then submitted online to UTP and one in 15 is chosen to participate in the Nacional JIC which includes all of the accredited universities in Panamá. The winner of the Nacional JIC then represents Panama at the National Council of Undergraduate Research which is held yearly in the United States.
The number of projects has grown in each of the three successive years since the JIC was established and the enthusiasm of the participants is contributing to building the desired “research culture”. All of the projects that participate in the National JIC are published in a special edition in the Revista de Iniciación Científica (RIC).
This edition is dedicated to undergraduate research and includes the results of undergraduate students thesis. What distinguishes the JIC undergraduate research program is that it incorporates the curriculum in a project-based experience which results in a publication. The diversity of subjects and quality of research reflects the creativity and dedication of Panamá’s students and professors.