Last Monday afternoon in the Stouffer Lounge in the Memorial Union, several Fort Hays State University professors attended a presentation by Jill Singer, an expert in undergraduate research.
Singer traveled to Hays from Buffalo State and discussed the success Buffalo State has had with undergraduate research. She also reviewed the advantages and challenges of engaging in undergraduate research.
In addition to studying sediment layers in the Buffalo River as a geologist, Singer is the director of undergraduate research at Buffalo State.
She brought more than 20 years of knowledge and experience – including a stint as president of CUR – to her presentation to faculty members on Monday, as well as successful examples. In 2001, Buffalo State launched an interdisciplinary research project regarding the Buffalo River. Twenty-four students and five faculty mentors studied the history of the river and the effects of early 20th-century pollution.
Singer stressed that there is no formula for implementing undergraduate research. Successful strategies depend on the institution, the budget and the individual participants.
Students involved in research early in their academic careers gain confidence, acquire skills and improve their grades. “They start to see connections between topics and concepts,” Singer said.
Perhaps more important, according to Singer, is the relationship that students are able to form with faculty mentors. Singer’s own undergraduate mentor hugely impacted her career by being someone she could bring her concerns to for years after completing her undergraduate research.
Singer stresses that faculty mentors have a unique opportunity to make an impact in their mentees’ lives. A mentor can also provide a professional contact that influences a student through his or her entire career.
Students aren’t the only ones who benefit, however. Faculty mentors can also benefit from working with undergraduate students. Undergraduate students often bring enthusiasm into projects, as well as outside skills, such as computer or mechanical skills. “They complement and expand on some of the things you know,” Singer said.
Undergraduate student researchers bring fresh ideas and perspectives and are not afraid to cross disciplinary boundaries. The students’ ingenuity and inventiveness enhances creative and scholarly projects.
Singer acknowledged some of the many questions faculty members might need answered about undergraduate research. She emphasized that few easy answers can be found because every situation is unique and each discipline has its own definitions of research.
The meeting ended with a short question-and-answer period and the viewing of a video about undergraduate research produced by Buffalo State. Singer also met with 20 students on Sunday evening and made other presentations across campus on Monday and Tuesday.