Affinity Research Groups (Case Study 2)

Using REUs to Retain Female Undergraduates

The Affinity Research Group model (ARG) integrates student participation in research teams and a structured cooperative learning environment. The ARG model is especially effective for reaching out to students who are competent, but who lack confidence — students who are often not invited to do research. The result is greater engagement, increased confidence, increased likelihood of pursuing a graduate degree, and the development of collaboration skills.

The components of ARG are:

  • An annual orientation. This event helps new student members to assimilate and build research skills.

  • A research project framework. A clear project framework and project definitions are important for helping students understand the relevance of their assignments to each other and to the research goal.

  • Defined deliverables. Defining the outputs, assigning tasks that an undergraduate can accomplish, and setting clear deadlines allow group members to develop domain expertise while structuring individual accountability.

  • Regular meetings. These meetings promote productive faculty-student and student-student connections. They create a structure for reporting on progress, solving problems, sharing successes, and engaging in group and self-assessment.

The foundation of the ARG model is cooperative learning, which has five elements:

  • Positive interdependence: Establishing an environment in which students understand that they will not succeed unless all group members succeed is key. Responsibility to others within the group ensures that each member feels a sense of contribution to the success of the group and feels comfortable calling on other members for support.



“I don’t think I would have considered grad school had it not been for ARG. We wrote papers, went to conferences, and understood what it was to do research. I knew what it meant to get a PhD or to do a master’s thesis.” Having been a part of an ARG as an undergraduate made her more confident in her studies when she decided to attend graduate school. In her ARG she learned that “You don’t have to have the answers in order to go on. You have to be interested in the question.”

Nelly points to her experience in an ARG as something that helped prepare her for her present position: “I knew I had the foundation through my education and ARG to figure out problems and then write about it in a way people could understand. You have to work with different people. It’s collaborative.”


A handbook on implementing the ARG is now available from the IEEE Computer Society (Gates et al., citation below).

  • Face-to-face promotive interaction: Regular meetings create opportunities for sharing resources, mutual encouragement, and applauding each other’s efforts to accomplish challenging research tasks.

  • Individual and group accountability: The group as a whole and each member are held accountable for meeting project milestones. Each task is associated with a deliverable and each member is assigned responsibility for completing tasks.

  • Group and professional skills: Because ARGs include students with varying experience levels, faculty members must explicitly teach and model interpersonal skills necessary for group work. Basic skills include active listening, active participation, and recording minutes. More advanced skills include summarizing, providing direction, synthesizing ideas, asking questions, facilitating brainstorming sessions, and offering constructive criticism.

  • Group processing: While faculty mentors direct programmatic changes, all members are involved in discussions reflecting on the group’s progress: what activities and behaviors to continue or change.


  • Gates, A. Q., Roach, S., Villa, E., Kephart, K., Della-Piana, C., & Della-Piana, G. (2008). The Affinity Research Group Model: Creating and Maintaining Effective Research Teams. IEEE Computer Society.
  • The Cooperative Learning Center at the University of Minnesota:

Case Study Contributors: Stephanie Hamilton and Sarah Sutter

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Authors: Lecia Barker