Redefining Undergraduate Research

Recently announced in the LOG, Dan McCollum, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Administration, and I received a $50,000 grant from the UW System to further undergraduate research on our campus.

‘Undergraduate research’ are the words on the request for proposals and on the award letter…not the words you will hear us use as we implement several exciting ideas on campus with this funding during the remaining academic year. Instead, you will hear us use the term student-centered research, scholarship, and creative activities (URSCA).  You will hear us focus on the importance of these student-faculty collaborations across campus as they show a huge benefit for both the students and the faculty members engaged in this type of teaching and learning practice.

It became pretty clear at a recent workgroup meeting I was at that faculty are aware of the language being used when student-faculty collaborations are discussed. For example, at this meeting I brought up the ‘undergraduate research’ grant that Dan and I had received and, after using those words, I quickly retracted them. I then stated  that I meant student-centered research, scholarship and creative activities. A lovely music Professor acknowledged my new choice of words with a “thank you”. I then realized that perhaps I should write a bit about what is meant when we use the term student-centered RSCA; because, it certainly means more than the ‘undergraduate research’ that I take part in given my social science background.

Osborn and Karukstis (2009) identify four key characteristics of student-centered URSCA:

1. First, there must be involved mentorship on the part of the faculty member which helps to facilitate a collaborative and serious interaction that is guided by clear goals. The focus here is on the development of the student, the student’s intellectual engagement and his or her learning process.

2. Second, there must be at least a partially original and a meaningful contribution by the student. They acknowledge that the student-faculty collaboration – in a given semester – may reveal more questions than answers but that the process should still lead to a novel contribution.

3. Third, they recommend that the work being done in these collaborations use techniques and methodologies that are both appropriate and recognized in the discipline.  The experience should also include a reflective or synthetic component that is appropriate to the discipline.

4. Finally, they suggest the creation of a final, tangible product for which the process and results are peer-reviewed, critiqued, or judged, in a manner appropriate to the discipline.

So, in short, the ideas we will be discussing the rest of the academic year related to student-centered URSCA are designed to be available to all involved in student-faculty collaborations. These experiences are important for students because involvement in them has been found to be positively correlated to student grades, first- and second-year retention rates, persistence to graduation, numerous job skills sought after by employers and motivation to pursue and succeed in graduate school. Our goal is for departments across campus, and their students, to have access to student-center URSCA experiences…and this grant is going to help us move one step forward to doing so.

More details on what the grant will offer for student-faculty collaborations in a blog post soon!

Joanne DolanJennifer Lanter, Ph. D
Human Development & Psychology,
CATL Director

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