Undergraduate Research

KEY IDEA #2:  Afford undergraduate students research opportunities within and across disciplines thus fostering their inquisitive minds and better preparing them for post-graduate careers/education.

The current strategic plan underscores a commitment to expanding research to enrich the undergraduate student learning experience. In the spring, the “Innovation in Pedagogy and Curricula” subcommittee of the Long Range Planning Task Force advanced this strategic priority in their recommendations, expanding the scope from an opportunity for “some” to an opportunity for “most.” Undergraduate research, broadly conceived to include discovery-based and creative activities, provides students deeper understanding, competencies, and abilities for the discipline under investigation.  Opportunities for research reinforce knowledge acquired inside the classroom, strengthen the relationships between undergraduate and graduate students and faculty mentors, and enhance the assimilation of knowledge through practical, hands-on experience.

Potential Obstacles:

  • Research in any discipline requires additional resources (dollars, space, computing, faculty/staff time, etc.)
  • How much instruction is required before a student can undertake a task that merits the definition of “research”?
  • Learning objectives and outcomes of the experience need to be clearly defined
  • Various disciplines define research differently
  • What will students gain from the experience within each discipline?  (Some more clear than others!)
  • Collaboration between different disciplines and departments
  • Standardization of an evaluation process across disciplines (off campus experiences could pose challenges)
  • Addressing resistance and changing perceptions of UG research from “burden” to “benefit”

Unresolved Issues:

  • The statement “opportunity for most” may be controversial; what about “for all”?
  • Most (if not all) faculty feel that any students should have the opportunity to conduct undergraduate research, but not all practice what they preach.
  • Not just for students preparing for graduate school (GPA>3.0!)
  • How to integrate STEM-H and Humanities?
  • Well-defined mentoring:  faculty, post-docs, grad students, or a combination?
  • Graduate students and faculty ability to successfully instruct undergraduate students.  Graduate students and faculty understand that undergraduates in research have a transition period, and they should engage and educate undergraduates during this period.

Strategic Contribution:
Inventing the future begins with our undergraduate students!  Undergraduate research – broadly conceived to include discovery-based and creative activities – is more educational than just giving students a chance to see what is involved in graduate school; it provides an experiential learning activity that helps students synthesize knowledge and skills acquired in the classroom.  In fact, it provides the unique opportunity for students to contribute to knowledge in addition to be consumers of knowledge.  All students benefit from the undergraduate research experience of creating, planning, designing, conducting, collecting and analyzing data, and connecting a research problem to an applied problem and its solution.  In such a focused process, students will analyze, interpret, and synthesize information from a variety of sources; practice holistic reasoning; improve verbal, visual, and written communications skills; contribute to a team (e.g., university) effort; gain an understanding of the “bigger picture”; and enhance self-confidence and preparation for a career and/or post-baccalaureate education.

In addition to the learning advantages of undergraduate research, students significantly contribute to faculty programs.  With minimal resources, undergraduate students tackle small projects that often constitute preliminary data for a major project and spawn new avenues to be pursued by professors.  Such data frequently culminate in grant proposals, generate manuscripts, or advocate research programs as conference presentations.

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