It’s been just a year since the Office of the Provost created the Office of Undergraduate Research and students this fall are already seeing tangible results.
The new office, led by Paul Diehl, the Henning Larsen Professor of political science, is creating a broad-based undergraduate research program to provide more opportunities across disciplines, and to increase financial and project support, and multiple ways for students to showcase their work.
“Students are clamoring for the opportunity to conduct research and the university owes it to them to be able to do so,” said Diehl, who for 10 years has been the leader of the Teaching Academy in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
A significant increase in participation at the spring 2013 Undergraduate Research Symposium is a sign of students’ desire for research – the number of posters and presentations increased from 203 in 2012 to 342 this year.
The undergraduate research office has identified several new approaches to connect undergraduate students with research opportunities that transform their U. of I. experience, Diehl said.
“There are a number of initiatives that we’ve identified as important and some of them already are being incorporated in the classroom.”
The annual faculty retreat, held in February, was attended by more than 200 people, who discussed ways to incorporate undergraduate research opportunities in existing classes and develop new programs that support such research.
“We want every single student to have the opportunity to have the best education they can imagine,” said Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise. “Undergraduate research opportunities are a big part of that, and that includes those who don’t choose a research career.”
Diehl said his office has focused on two broad areas. One is providing a more supportive environment for young researchers, and the other is to better incorporate research concepts into teacher training.
As for the support network, work is proceeding to create undergraduate research journals, offer certificates to undergraduates successfully completing a sanctioned research project, make available summer fellowships, and provide a conference and travel assistance program for students wanting to present their work off campus.
Diehl said the new initiatives don’t just focus on providing opportunity.
A great deal of work also is going into changing the nature of undergraduate courses.
“We’re asking everyone to look at what they’re teaching and consider ways to build research components into their courses,” he said, which means reconsidering courses that in the past may not even have been thought of as research-adaptable.