Undergraduate Research

Summary of reform: This reform involves undergraduate students (recently shifting more toward first and second year students) in faculty research projects in a similar fashion to that of graduate research assistants. Students have the opportunity to engage in research assignments under the mentorship of a faculty member, participate in research meetings, and witness results in progress. Students are responsible for maintaining records of their work, and fulfilling their assignments. Engagement in the knowledge production process and the concomitant networking opportunities offer the opportunity to develop skills applicable to summer internships, conference presentations, and better opportunites after graduation.

Level of institutionalization: While supported at the institutional level, these programs are generally  disciplines specific, primarity in the sciences

Outcomes: Undergraduate research programs have been a key tool in attempting to increase interest in the science and technical fields, in research careers, and especially in encouraging minority/female participation in the sciences. Students have a higher assessment of their own academic potential, and set their academic goals higher as a result. Faculty have a more positive impression of undergraduate ability and shift their teaching styles accordingly. Faculty-student mentorships are created from these programs, likewise, faculty are able to bridge the research-teaching gulf, creating lively material for their students while getting fresh perspective in their research. This is especially critical at non-doctoral granting institutions, at which students are filling a gap in research help for faculty.

Description of assessment: Assessment at the program level targeting the effect on student performance, student self-assessment of intellectual ability, faculty attitudes toward students, and the operating mechanics of the program itself.

Resistances: These programs are expensive and complex to administer. Faculty may be skeptical that undergraduates, particularly first and second year students, are not capable of meaningful participation in th e research process or of high-level, analytical thinking such involvement requires.

Evolution/History: In the 1970s, many graduate schools were creating junior and senior level research programs for minority students to interest them in graduate school and prepare them for the higher level of work required. The Council on Undergraduate Research formed in 1978 to promote undergraduate research in the sciences by students at predominately undergraduate colleges. These movements in the late 1980s and 1990s have shifted toward freshmen and sophomores, involving them in research earlier in their college experience.

Link to suggested readings: Articles on Undergraduate Research

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