Conference Presentation: Bleeker, Ty, Joe Arevalo, Linden Brinks, James Karsten, Steven Musch, Ann Parkin (2013). "Enhancing the first-year geography student experience: The importance of research mentors in inquiry-based learning." Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers (Los Angeles, CA), 9-13 April 2013; poster. Abstract: First-year undergraduate students seldom have the opportunity to explore geography through substantive field-based research experiences. To address this challenge, Calvin College has developed an inquiry-based course that teaches physical geography by pairing student mentors with small groups of first-year undergraduate students who conduct studies on the coastal dunes of Lake Michigan. Students selected to be research mentors are experienced in the Earth sciences and serve as guides for the student-led projects. This study evaluates the effect of research mentors on the educational experience of first-year students enrolled in the course. Data was collected through behavioral observation, mentor and student interviews, and reflective student journal entries. Mentors contributed to student education through coordinating logistics, valuing student contributions, encouraging greater ownership of group research projects, and promoting the self-reliance of students. The inclusion of research mentors in undergraduate inquiry-based learning appears to enrich the educational experience of first-year students through (1) greater engagement in the scientific process of physical geography and (2) personalized introduction to both academic and geographic study.