Today@Sam Article

Education Initiative Fosters Undergrad Research

July 31, 2018
SHSU Media Contact: Hannah Haney

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As part of a new education initiative to foster best practices in teaching and learning, 10 Sam Houston State University professors will introduce a rigorous research component to their courses in the fall 2018 semester.

Experts from the American Association of State College and Universities identified a number of high impact practices shown to benefit first-year students on their educational journeys, including seminars, learning communities, internships and undergraduate research. While SHSU has already employed a number of these strategies, the new cohort of professors will focus and practice one particular initiative- undergraduate research. 

Madhusudan Choudhary, director for the Center for Enhancing Undergraduate Research Experiences and Creative Activities, solicited mini-grant proposals from the carefully selected faculty, reviewed their proposals, and coordinated the logistics and advising of the projects. The EURECA Center also organized a workshop for the grant recipients and assisted them in developing instruments to assess the impact of research activities on students’ critical thinking, group collaboration, presentations, and scholarly writing.

The faculty were each awarded a $1,000 stipend and given a student research assistant for the fall, who will be paid $500, totaling $15,000 in grant funding. The purpose of the grant is to give the instructors the resources, guidance and support to integrate a strong research component into their syllabus.

The research activities proposed by faculty include proposal development, literature review, data collection, data analysis, critical writing, and oral communication.

Lisa Van Raalte, assistant professor in the department of Communication Studies, will incorporate a research project for her COMS 2386 Interpersonal Communication class.

“As a researcher myself, I was excited to see funds made available to incorporate research so early on in undergraduate education,” Van Raalte said. “It is certainly a lot more work than your typical freshman class -and it is worth it. My hope is that students will develop important critical thinking skills as they develop a research project, better their teamwork abilities, and produce a research project that gives them a more thorough understanding and appreciation of the research process.”

This program is innovative because it allows students to immerse themselves in a subject or discipline in which they are not majoring in to increase their overall engagement. 

Carmen Montaña-Schalk, visiting assistant professor in the department of Biological Sciences, will utilize a free phone application called “iNaturalist” to engage non-science majors to connect with science concepts and to produce data on biodiversity.

“I am highly supportive of promoting research activities with undergraduate students,” Montaña-Schalk said. “I believe that by promoting research activities in freshman classes we can increase student retention in science. Students can learn key biological concepts, appreciate collaborative learning, study methods and learn about the natural world. Also, students can make better decisions of what academic programs or professional careers they want to pursue.”

Though the program will officially start in the fall of 2018, several professors began introducing their research activities in the spring.

“Fostering undergraduate student research is absolutely thrilling. I tried it under the right conditions, which were largely dependent on the size of the class, and to considerable effect in my last 1301 U.S. History course,” Zachary Doleshal, lecturer for the department of History said. “Students researched the number of slaves in Walker County during the Civil War. They came across some interesting results while doing archival work for the first time. It was an electric class. I hope to recapture some of that electricity this coming fall.”

The faculty will have multiple opportunities to present their curriculums throughout the year. Montaña-Schalk and Wiedenfeld, two professors involved in the pilot program, presented a poster on their initial results at the AASCU Academic Affairs Meeting in Seattle, Washington, July 25-27. A group of participating professors will also present at the 2018 PACE Teaching and Learning Conference on Aug. 16. By the end of the fall semester, the cohort will publish and report on how these research experiences have helped students accomplish their learning objects at the freshman level.

The interdisciplinary cohort of 10 includes Zachary Doleshal, History, Audrey Murfin, English, Lisa Van Raalte, Communication Studies, Emma Bullock, Mathematics and Statistics, Aaron Lynne, Biological Sciences, Recayi “Reg” Pecen, Engineering Technology, Carmen Montana-Schalk, Biological Sciences, Patricia Ramsay, Family and Consumer Sciences, Michelle Hoogterp, Newton Gresham Library, and Grant Wiedenfeld, Mass Communication.

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