How research propels undergraduates

Regional institutions, private schools and community colleges are expanding undergraduate research

Colleges and universities continue to recognize the impact undergraduate research has on greater student retention and achievement.

“I think [undergraduate research] really helps students mature as thinkers and doers,” Brian Thomas, associate dean for undergraduate research opportunities at Stanford University, told U.S. News and World Report in September. “Many different kinds of careers are going to present students with challenges that don’t have obvious answers.”

The Council on Undergraduate Research provides plenty of resources for higher ed leaders looking to ramp up their academic offerings, including its CUR Transformations Project, which focuses on science.

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Valparaiso University in Indiana has been building its undergraduate research program since the 1980s, according to the Times of Northwestern Indiana.

“Most of us faculty members have had some kind of formative research experience—personally, I had some very influential summers of research with the scientists from Bell Laboratories,” Stan Zygmunt, a professor of physics and the university’s assistant director of student research, told the Times. “And because that played such an important role in my career, I now want to provide those kinds of research experiences for my students.”

Underrepresented students in particular can benefit from the mentoring component of undergraduate research, Blanche Wright, a fourth-year clinical psychology doctoral student, wrote in an op-ed in the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s student newspaper.

“Overall, mentorship of underrepresented racial/ethnic minority students requires a willingness to build personal connections, demonstrate sensitivity to their backgrounds, and provide assistance for accessing targeted resources,” Wright wrote. “I challenge the UCLA community—especially graduate student and faculty mentors—to consider how we can improve our mentorship approach to help URM college students reach their fullest potential.”

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Regional higher ed institutions and community colleges have worked hard to expand undergraduate research over the past several years, University Business reported in 2018.

“There’s a strong correlation between participation in undergraduate research and student success as measured by higher rates of retention and graduation,” Beth Ambos, the former executive officer of the Council on Undergraduate Research, told UB.

For example, students at the University of West Florida created a virtual model of a historic black neighborhood in Pensacola that was experiencing gentrification.

Undergraduate research plays a key role in recruitment at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Parents, especially, view it as a more worthwhile alternative for their students than the traditional summer job.
Undergraduate research plays a key role in recruitment at the UMass Lowell. Parents, especially, view it as a more worthwhile alternative for their students than the traditional summer job.

In California, student researchers investigated ecological challenges such as food and energy production, water and air quality, and environmental sustainability.

“Undergraduate institutions have many strengths to further scientific exploration, such as committing internal support to research as a part of the institutional mission,” David Rovnyak, a professor of chemistry at Bucknell University, and George Shields, provost and professor of chemistry at Furman University, wrote in UB. “Perhaps the most valuable strength is a low-stakes environment to foster publishing research.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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