Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant

Reaching Across All Disciplines: Broadening the Opportunities for Undergraduate Research Participation


INTRODUCTION

At Centre College we [staff, faculty, and administration] engage in a number of different high-impact teaching and learning activities with our students outside of normal classroom instruction. These produce opportunities for students that include internships, study abroad, community-based service projects, and undergraduate research experiences. Because these transformative experiences play a central role in the mission of the institution, in 2012 Centre College included the promise of experiential learning experiences in the Centre Commitment.

Undergraduate research, or “mentored scholarship”, is one of the several transformative opportunities that satisfy this commitment. The Undergraduate Research Committee at Centre College has recently defined undergraduate research as “an activity conducted by an undergraduate with the guidance of a faculty member that advances the knowledge of the student and aims to make an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline.” The definition is inclusive, and aims to cast a wide net across the various disciplinary approaches to undergraduate research.

While faculty are currently engaged in undergraduate research across the divisions and disciplines at Centre College, there are challenges which the Mellon Grant is specifically designed to address. These include the ambiguity of what “counts” as undergraduate research at Centre, as well as the relatively lower frequency of undergraduate research in the social sciences and humanities compared to the natural sciences.


WHY UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH?

Research shows that student engagement in undergraduate research is consistently linked to desirable educational outcomes. It is also associated with higher levels of self-confidence and self-motivation among students, particularly those from disadvantaged and lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Furthermore, commitment to undergraduate research strengthens institutions of higher education, increasing the overall quality of education, yield and quality of incoming classes, rates of retention and graduation, grants and alumni giving, and reputation. (For a review of this literature, see here and here.)

Despite these significant advantages, however, faculty often face sizable challenges to engaging in more undergraduate research activities. These challenges include:

  • Differences across divisions and disciplines. Undergraduate research is conducted differently both between and among the different Divisions. What does it mean to do “undergraduate research” in the humanities? What resources are needed and how does this differ from the social sciences or natural sciences?
  • Accounting for faculty evaluation. There is currently no clear policy on how undergraduate research mentorship “counts” in the annual evaluation and tenure/promotion process. How should it fit into this process? Should it count as service, teaching, scholarship, or all of the above?
  • Compensation for faculty mentorship of undergraduate research. Undergraduate research experiences are very often offered by faculty as an “add-on” to existing teaching/service/research assignments. What can be done to compensate faculty for their efforts to offer more mentorship experiences?
  • Summer incentives. Faculty scholarship projects do not often lend themselves immediately or directly to assistance from undergraduate students. The immediate benefit of mentoring an undergraduate student in the summer is thus not obvious. What can be done to increase the incentive for faculty to mentor undergraduate scholarly activities during the summer?

It is for these reasons that the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation recently awarded a four-year, $600,000 grant to Centre College aimed specifically at increasing undergraduate research opportunities for our students by overcoming the barriers described above. We recognize that in order to increase student participation in undergraduate research, the above challenges must be resolved. The grant will be administered from fall 2013 though summer 2017.

In sum, the principal goals of this grant include:

  • Increasing the number of students and faculty members who participate in undergraduate research throughout the summer and the academic year.
  • Increasing the frequency of “mentored scholarship” opportunities especially among Divisions 1 and 2 especially, leading to a more even division of undergraduate research activity between the divisions.
  • Enhancing the “culture” of undergraduate research at Centre College through changing practices that will result from a more comprehensive understanding of how undergraduate research factors into faculty evaluation and incentives, as well as desirable student outcomes.

WHAT OPPORTUNITIES WILL THERE BE FOR FACULTY/STUDENTS AS A RESULT OF THIS GRANT?

The specific parameters of the grant include the following:


INCREASED SUMMER RESOURCES FOR MENTORING UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH

  • FDC currently offers summer research stipends of up to $1,400 to faculty with an additional $1,100 in travel and supplies. For faculty who mentor undergraduates in a research endeavor in the summer, there will be an additional $600 stipend available (for a total of $2,000) and an additional $500 per student increase in their travel/supply budget (up to two students). (For faculty who do not mentor undergraduate students, the $1,400 stipend and $1,100 in travel/supplies are of course still available.)
  • In an effort to broaden undergraduate research activities across the disciplines, the Mellon grant specifically has allocated a proportion of these funds for faculty from Divisions 1 and 2. Faculty from humanities and social science fields are thus especially encouraged to apply.
  • Faculty who wish to apply for these additional summer funds may do so on the standard FDC summer funding application form, due in early spring semesters. This form is available at: www.centre.edu/academicaffairs/fdc.html.

FUNDING A SPRING-TERM “RESEARCH PREPARATION” COURSE FOR STUDENTS

  • Students are currently funded through FDC for up to eight weeks during the summer. Faculty have often noted that some students are not always well-prepared to begin their research endeavors at the beginning of the summer and several weeks are often used simply teaching the appropriate academic/research skills. If students began their summers with a “head start” on developing these skills, imagine how much more could be accomplished!
  • The Mellon grant provides funding for one faculty member from each division to coordinate a one-credit “research preparation” course in the spring term to work with the faculty mentor to help students develop the skills, review the relevant literature, or any other skill or task that would help them be able to “hit the ground running” when the eight-week summer research experience begins.
  • These one-credit courses will be offered in the spring term of 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.
  • Faculty who supervise these one-credit courses will not be released from any existing teaching obligations, but will be awarded a stipend of $2,500 per semester to compensate for their efforts.
  • Those faculty interested in serving as coordinators for the Spring 2014 courses should submit a brief proposal to Benjamin Knoll (benjamin.knoll@centre.edu) by October 15, 2013 that describes the candidate’s interest and qualifications for the position.
  • More details on this initiative will be announced in the Fall 2013 semester.

INCREASED FUNDING FOR STUDENT TRAVEL TO PROFESSIONAL CONFERENCES

  • Many faculty have expressed frustration about the lack of funding to take students to professional meetings that require airplane travel. As a result, the Mellon grant has allocated $10,000 per year to fund student travel to professional conferences above and beyond the $5,000 that Centre currently offers.
  • Faculty can apply for these additional funds using the “Student Travel Form” available on the FDC website: www.centre.edu/academicaffairs/fdc.html.

FUNDING FOR FACULTY TRAVEL TO UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH CONFERENCES

  • The Mellon grant has allocated $3,600 per year to fund faculty attendance at professional conferences that focus on mentored scholarship and undergraduate research.
  • The use of these funds is somewhat flexible, but the intention is that teams of four faculty (one from each division plus an administrator) will attend one conference per year and make a public presentation of what they learned to the Centre Community upon their return.
  • Faculty wishing to attend these conferences should put together a team and bring a proposal to Benjamin Knoll (benjamin.knoll@centre.edu) at least a month prior to the conference application deadline. Upcoming opportunities for conferences will also be advertised on a regular basis.

RESOURCES TO FUND EXPERIMENTS WITH “OUTSIDE-THE-BOX” SUMMER MENTORED SCHOLARSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

  • There are many creative faculty who engage in “outside-the-box” mentored scholarship activities with students during the summer. These include:
    Professor Weston's “Theory Camp” (www.centre.edu/web/news/2009/weston_theory.html),
    Professor Tapley's “Art Camp” (www.centre.edu/news/2013/tapley.html), and
    Professor Haigh's “After Orpheus” (www.centre.edu/news/2012/edinburgh_fringe.html),
    a 2012 original theatrical work that students wrote, developed, and performed. Mentored scholarship looks different across the disciplines.
  • The Mellon grant provides budgets of $2,000 for additional stipends/supplies/travel to develop and execute other “outside-the-box” mentored scholarship opportunities during the summers beginning in 2014. (These funds are available separate and apart from the existing FDC opportunities available in the summer.) These grants could help cover expenses for things like books, supplies, student/faculty stipends, travel expenses, etc. Faculty are encouraged to think creatively!
  • The Mellon grant will fund two proposals during the summer of 2014 and three proposals during the summers of 2015, 2016, and 2017.
  • Faculty wishing to apply for these additional funds to develop “outside-the-box” mentored scholarship activities for the summer of 2014 should submit a proposal, including a brief description and tentative budget, to Benjamin Knoll (benjamin.knoll@centre.edu) by February 1, 2014.

RESOURCES TO FUND A ONE-YEAR WORKING GROUP ON DEFINING “UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH” AND RECOMMENDING HOW IT SHOULD FIT INTO THE FACULTY EVALUATION PROCESS

  • The lack of a clear understanding of what undergraduate research “looks like” in Divisions 1 and 2, as well as the ambiguity and uncertainty of how it should factor into the faculty evaluation process, has been routinely identified by both the Centre College Undergraduate Research Committee, as well as the national Council for Undergraduate Research, as two of the chief barriers to fostering more undergraduate research in higher education.
  • This working group will be composed of 9 faculty (3 from each division) who will be charged with 1) “defining undergraduate research and scholarship in a way that is inclusive for all divisions,” with a specific recommendation for what “counts” as an undergraduate research experience for purposes of the Centre Commitment, and 2) “recommending language and policy for incorporating undergraduate research into both the annual review and the tenure/promotion process.” They will build on the work that the Undergraduate Research Committee did during the 2012-2013 academic year on these topics.
  • This working group will be organized in the Fall 2013 semester and work throughout the academic year and the especially the summer of 2014. They will be required to submit a final report no later than August 1, 2014.
  • Each member of the working group will be compensated with a stipend of $1,250, to be awarded after the submission of the final report in August 2014.
  • Faculty interested in participating in this working group should contact Benjamin Knoll (benjamin.knoll@centre.edu), submitting a brief statement of interest and experience in the topic, no later than October 15, 2013.

RESOURCES TO FUND A WORKING GROUP ON FACILITATING UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH DURING THE ACADEMIC YEAR

  • Most undergraduate research at Centre College takes place in the summer months. Many students seek such opportunities during the academic year but for a variety of reasons it is prohibitive for faculty to undertake such “add-on” commitments during the long semesters, especially when there is no clear incentive and/or compensation for doing so.
  • This working group will be composed of 6 faculty (2 from each division) and will “investigate different models for the integration of credit or financial incentive for collaborative research with students during the academic year,” including a “study of what is being done elsewhere and make recommendations of several models” that can be piloted at Centre College.
  • This working group will be organized early in the Fall 2013 semester and work throughout the semester and winter break. They will be required to submit a final report no later than February 1, 2014.
  • Each member of the working group will be compensated with a stipend of $1,250, to be awarded after the submission of the final report in February 2014.
  • Faculty interested in participating in this working group should contact Benjamin Knoll (benjamin.knoll@centre.edu), no later than September 1, 2013.

MINI-GRANTS TO DEVELOP AND PILOT PROGRAM-SPECIFIC MODELS OF UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH DURING THE ACADEMIC YEAR

  • By its very nature, undergraduate research will look different for each academic program. The Mellon grant provides for a limited number of $6,000 “mini-grants” for programs to develop and implement a “pilot model” to incorporate/facilitate more undergraduate research opportunities for their students during the academic year, whether through new course offerings, new modules in existing courses, stipends for faculty to mentor outside-of-class activities, and/or curriculum reorganizations.
  • This mini-grant could fund a number of things, including stipends for faculty to host 400-level independent research courses above and beyond their regular coursework, hiring an adjunct faculty to cover a course so that another faculty member may teach a new research-intensive course, or funding stipends for a summer workshop for program members to re-examine their curriculum and course offerings to incorporate more undergraduate research opportunities for their majors.
  • Programs will be able to consult the report produced by the faculty working group on facilitating models of undergraduate research during the academic year. This report will be available by February 2014 and will include several examples, models, and “best practices” approaches from around the country.
  • There are up to eight mini-grants available, three during the 2014-2015 academic year (one from each division), three during the 2015-2016 academic year (one from each division), and two during the 2016-2017 academic year (one from Division 1 and one from Division 2).
  • Programs wishing to participate during the 2014-2015 academic year submit a proposal to Benjamin Knoll (benjamin.knoll@centre.edu) by October 15, 2013.
  • Proposals may come from any member of the program committee, who should submit a proposal which briefly outlines the program’s need for the mini-grant, how it might be used, and a tentative budget for the $6,000 grant. While proposals may come from any member of the program committee, the entire program should be involved in the initial discussion of the proposal. It is not expected that every member of the program participate in the mini-grant, but all should be involved in the conversation as to how it is used and implemented. Note: programs with existing curricula or procedures that facilitate regular undergraduate research during the academic year are not eligible to apply.

Note: All Undergraduate Research Mellon Grant proposals will be reviewed by members of the Undergraduate Research Committee.

For more information and/or questions about any of these opportunities, please contact grant coordinator Benjamin Knoll at benjamin.knoll@centre.edu.



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