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Possible Initiatives For Discussion

 

II.        Promoting Research Opportunities

 

            Emphasizing research opportunities for undergraduates has become increasingly important since the Boyer Report (1998) identified the need to “reinvent undergraduate education” by paying more attention to undergraduate research.  As a liberal arts college embedded within a research university, Tufts is particularly well placed to provide such opportunities, especially when we consider our tradition of being a place where faculty are equally dedicated scholars and teachers.  The presence of graduate students in Arts, Sciences, and Engineering also provides opportunities to develop programs to support research and scholarship between graduate and undergraduate students.  Undergraduates can benefit from the interaction with graduate students and graduate students can benefit from the opportunities for mentoring.  This combination of factors is a strength upon which we would like to build.

 

            We propose a program that would encourage and support undergraduate engagement in research and other kinds of engaged learning as informed by the developmental model.  Experiential and immersive in method, engaged learning includes an emphasis on research in the widest sense of the word.  In many disciplines research will involve experimentation, empirical observation, or data collection; in others it might center on solitary work in the library or the artist's studio. We do not want research to be construed in any narrowly defined disciplinary sense, but to be understood as applying equally to the different types of work produced in the arts, humanities, sciences, social sciences, and technological fields.  Engaging in research can help students attain all of the educational goals set forth in the December interim report.  Working on their own research or on the research of faculty, students are brought into closer contact with faculty, thereby helping them to make the transition from passive consumers of knowledge to active participants in its creation.  Our students can learn leadership skills and become members of an intellectual community by understanding the faculty’s profile as scholar-teachers and by internalizing this understanding of how to learn and how to communicate what they have learned to others.  We wish to acknowledge the great passion that many students bring to extra-curricular activities and that that these activities can serve as the starting point for individual research projects.  We discuss this further below.

 

Below we list possible initiatives for consideration.  The proposals focus on student participation in research activities.  We also feel that an increase in the resources available to support faculty research is important.  Increased resources for faculty research can enhance the undergraduate experience by providing additional opportunities for student participation in faculty research.  As with other initiatives in this report, we put these initiatives forward to spark discussion and elicit suggestions from the community:

 

·        Augmented Undergraduate Research Fund:  Currently, the Dean of the Colleges has a modest budget to support undergraduate research.  An expansion of this fund would allow faculty to receive support to hire students to work on faculty research projects, and to allow students to engage in more ambitious (and expensive) research activities whether here or abroad.  An adequately financed internal research fund is particularly important for fields in which there are inadequate external funding opportunities.   Internal funding for undergraduate research should be sensitive to the opportunities available to faculty for obtaining external funding to, among other things, support undergraduate participation in their research.

 

·                    Summer Scholars Program:  The need to earn money in the summer is a considerable barrier for many students who might otherwise wish to work in labs, in the field, or in the library on faculty or student research.  We encourage the providing of funding to pay summer stipends for students working on research projects, whether here or abroad. A fund could be established patterned on the model of the International Relations Scholars Program, where undergraduates compete for resources that would allow them to devote their energies to research, perhaps leading to a senior thesis.

 

·        Research Funding for Students at the Professional Schools:  An augmented research fund could pay for students to serve as research assistants on projects at Tufts' professional schools.  This would have the additional benefit of contributing to the knitting together of the various schools within Tufts.

 

·        Research Clearinghouse:  A research clearinghouse overseen by the Dean of the Colleges could facilitate matching faculty with students and overseeing a support structure for student research.  Many faculty on the Medford campus hire students on research projects out of classes they teach.  This is not possible for faculty at other Tufts schools or on other campuses, particularly faculty in the downtown medical or dental schools.   A research clearinghouse might be particularly effective at placing students in our professional schools as well as on the Medford campus.  The research clearinghouse could also sponsor events that bring faculty from the professional schools to the Medford campus to interact with undergraduates and expose them to the research opportunities elsewhere within the university.

 

·        Undergraduate Research Symposium:  We propose an expansion of this event to include all disciplines and to celebrate its importance for student development.  Opportunities should be given to undergraduates who are doing research to present their work to their peers and mentors.  In addition to break-out sessions, a community dinner could be held, with both student and invited speakers, supported by the President’s Office.  We also encourage consideration of merging the undergraduate and graduate research symposia into a joint event.  We also pose the possibility of moving the symposium from its Saturday location to a day during the week.  Changing the day, and perhaps canceling courses on that Undergraduate Research Day, would raise the profile of the symposium, encourage more student and faculty participation and make a statement that undergraduate research is important here.  The cost of making this change would be an additional day of instruction tacked on to the end of the semester.

 

·        Endowed Fund for Culminating Academic Experiences: A special fund might be developed to support senior theses and other culminating academic experiences.  Awards from this fund could be designed in a way to honor particularly deserving juniors.  A Ballou Thesis Prize of, for example, $5,000 would be a distinct honor and would free students from the need to take work-study or other jobs to focus on their research.  Such a prize could be awarded in the annual Honors Award Ceremony.

 

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