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The Last Word

Undergraduate Research – It’s not just for students
By Andrea E. Chapdelaine, Ph.D., Provost

One of the most important and transformative experiences in my undergraduate career was the opportunity to engage in undergraduate research (UR). I was an Alpha student; I had many interests and little focus, much to the consternation of my parents. Fortunately, a psychology professor invited me to work with her and a political science professor on a project examining levels of moral reasoning exhibited by students in community standards proceedings. I was hooked. I selected both psychology and legal studies for my major and applied to graduate school in psychology and the law as a result. This opportunity opened up a whole new learning vista to a firstgeneration student who was unaware of the available higher education opportunities.

UR also played a pivotal role in my postbaccalaureate endeavors. During graduate school I involved undergraduates in my research. I soon found this collaboration as rewarding for me as a graduate student as it was during my undergraduate days. I originally aspired to a government position conducting research on legal system biases. Largely based on my experience with students, I instead pursued teaching at a small liberal arts college.

As a faculty member I again found research collaboration with students one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching. It’s a wonderful
example of the close faculty-student relationships that characterize Albright. My student coresearchers challenged my assumptions, asked new and interesting questions, and their excitement continually reenergized me. What I learned from them improved my scholarship, teaching, and my role as adviser and mentor. More so, they were a continual source of happiness and renewal.

At Albright, we have a flourishing UR program which strives to be inclusive of all disciplinary and interdisciplinary interests, provides stipends to students and faculty, and focuses on the learning outcomes for our students.

This past year, 26 students and 25 faculty participated in the Albright Creative Research Experience (ACRE) program, collaborating on projects ranging from brand loyalty and the effects of a receding economy to foraging and roosting behavior of the endangered Indiana bat, Myotis sodalis. Research has demonstrated the positive impact of UR on students’ critical thinking, problem-solving, ability to work in teams and communication skills, among others. And reports from our students regarding their experience in the ACRE program confirm these findings.

Although research is limited on the benefits of UR to faculty, Albright faculty who participate in ACRE report that they enjoy being involved in the program and that it is an excellent learning experience both for the faculty member and the student. Faculty frequently mention that their projects require them to learn new skills or technology or to hone existing ones. They also note with pride working with their students to navigate new terrain when things don’t go as planned and helping them become more flexible and able to adapt project goals when necessary.

The Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) is a national organization primarily composed of faculty whose mission is to support undergraduate research, advocating that “faculty members enhance their teaching and contribution to society by involving undergraduates in research.” Through my board membership on CUR and as provost, I know that administrative support for UR is critical. It must be fully integrated into the three-legged stool of faculty roles and responsibilities – teaching, scholarship and service.

For example, in many academic programs students direct their own research project early in the curriculum. In psychology, these projects were embedded into my courses and were supported through student assistants, laboratory facilities and course load. Many students continue their projects at more advanced levels under the mentorship of faculty, resulting in collaborative presentations and publications, which is one way that faculty meet scholarship expectations. Finally, many such projects are community-based (e.g., environmental research, study on the homeless), enabling faculty to contribute service to benefit the public good.

In addition to ensuring that UR is embedded in the faculty promotion and reward system, a college must also provide the resources – stipends, clerical support and supplies necessary for UR. Albright strives to meet these needs through the funding of the ACRE program, which ideally would be available to an increasing number of students.

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending time with a student who collaborated on research with me several years ago. It was fun reminiscing about our time together in the lab, spending countless hours viewing, reviewing and reviewing again videos of student interactions. Most would think that would be a memory one would like to forget, but for us, it was the beginning of a treasured friendship that flourishes a decade later.

I know many faculty would agree with me that the benefits of UR are not just for the students

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