The Importance of Student Research
Research is a critical tool in a broader educational process where lecture halls, classrooms, laboratories, and libraries serve only as stepping stones for expanded learning. Research requires you to take the knowledge gained in these traditional settings, and then apply it to new situations and problems. Thus an environment that fosters undergraduate research necessarily forces you to progress steadily from dependent to independent learners, an essential skill for K-12 teachers, business leaders, public historians and other professionals.
Clearly, the experience of undergraduate research provides young historians with tangible skills and meaningful outcomes that can be effectively used in both graduate and job applications as they start their careers. But, students are not the only ones who benefit from collaborative projects. Working with undergraduate researchers helps faculty mentors to continue their own scholarship and sometimes explore new areas.
Undergraduate Research at Shippensburg
This is an exciting time to be involved with undergraduate research here at Ship. A confluence of several factors including new leadership from the President on down, increasing interest in experiential learning, and new and reallocated resources are leading to a ground swell of support on campus. Last fall the College of Arts and Sciences sponsored the visit of two consultants from the national Council on Undergraduate Research who evaluated our programs and offered a report charting a path to the future. Of course they found a number of areas in which we can improve, but after their visit, the consultants commented on the overwhelmingly positive conversations they had with our students, faculty and administrators. When discussing Shipp’s position among the Pennsylvania State System, our leadership position with regard to undergraduate research was clearly a point-of-pride for the University. Over the course of their visit, it became clear that more undergraduate research in its various forms was occurring on the Shippensburg campus than even many of us realized.
Since the consultants’ report was published in early December, a committee of faculty, staff and administrators has been busy translating their recommendations into actual policy proposals. Just last Friday, the committee’s mission statement and goals was approved by Provost Lyman and will be incorporated into the university’s Academic Master Planning process. First, on the University-level, the Provost has created an Undergraduate Research Committee to bring together faculty, staff and administrators to offer advice and recommendations on improving student research opportunities in a collaborative setting. Among these recommendations is the establishment in the next five years of a fully staffed Office of Student Research, which will be responsible for coordinating and developing undergraduate research opportunities year round.
Second, is the expansion of Undergraduate Research Day, which is held each spring. The vast increase in participation for this year’s conference is a real testament to the growing excitement for collaborative scholarship not just among faculty, but especially among students. Last year the conference had about 110 students working with 50 faculty mentors in presenting about 75 posters, this year we will have 400 students working with more than 80 faculty mentors and presenting 120 posters. We have so many awesome poster presentations, that for the first time we have to have two poster sessions just to fit them all in. Even more exciting -- last year, we had zero oral presentations. This year, we have about 25 independent and conference panels, with nearly 100 students giving papers. Now that is an increase worth celebrating.