Undergraduate Research – and Faculty Mentoring – Opens Doors to the Future

NCClogo22When Megan King started her undergraduate research, she had expectations – and a solid hypothesis – of what her research would yield. Her hypothesis was not correct, which was a tough lesson for the North Central College senior, but one that gave her real-world skills. King reflected, “It was difficult for me to learn that it is okay – it’s just your hypothesis was proved wrong, and you move forward with what you did find.”

King began her research after asking numerous professors at North Central about their ideas relating to accounting and Spanish, which she has studied as an undergraduate. When Professor Sarah Lureau’s idea piqued her curiosity, King wrote a Richter Research Grant to secure funding from North Central and then traveled to Spain to research how International Financial Reporting Standards are taught in Spanish undergraduate universities for her paper, “A Study on Pedagogical Changes in Spanish Undergraduate Accounting Education.”

NCURwebbanner560x200Nancy Peterson, North Central College’s coordinator of undergraduate research and professor of chemistry, said that while there was no structural change that led to the increase, North Central has steadily sent more non-science students to NCUR. “We finally hit that critical mass where suddenly more students and faculty mentors realized NCUR was for all disciplines,” she said.

But there is a culture at North Central – and arguably, all NAC&U campuses – that facilitates student research. Faculty is committed to working one-on-one with students so that they are prepared for graduate school, internships and jobs while helping them make a connection between classroom theory and professional scholarship.

There are challenges to fostering undergraduate research, however, including time and money. North Central has overcome this by allowing research to count toward graduation credits, awarding grants and small stipends for research and hosting a summer research program for students. Time and money is a factor for faculty, also, and Peterson said that they have not completely solved this issue. If a professor demonstrates a shared project and peer review, then undergraduate research counts toward professional development. Also, one-on-one work with students is compensated as teaching credit based on number of credits the student is taking, but that is not always indicative of the time put into research and the scholarship endeavor, said Peterson. There are grants, however, that can include a faculty stipend and supply expenses for summer research with students.

NCURwebbannerPhotoFaculty support was essential to King’s work. “Professor Lureau advised me in writing the grant proposal, was available all the time to Skype with me while I was in Spain and is now advising me on writing the finished product,” said King. Faculty also encouraged King to apply to NCUR, which she thought would give her a good experience in presenting research on a national level.

Taylor Listul, a senior psychology major at Hamline University, also credits his faculty mentor, Paula Mullineaux, assistant professor in psychology, with helping him turn his idea into reality. A longitudinal study examining maternal characteristics’ effects on parent-child interactions, Listul’s research leveraged observational data collection, which is incredibly time-consuming and not found in many studies. Listul endured late nights and long hours, and always felt that Millineaux was as dedicated as he was. This year, Listul presented his project at three conferences, most recently at NCUR with 39 other students from Hamline, which annually sends some of the largest groups of students to the conference. NCUR was Listul’s first experience in front of a national, multidisciplinary audience, and he enjoyed fielding questions and hearing suggestions from those outside of the psychology field.

Listul spent much of the past three years working on his research, and in return he said it improved his writing skills, self-confidence and appeal to potential employers. “I’ve had a few interviews already, and the thing that impresses them most is my research experience.”

Other NAC&U members (and the number of students) who participated in NCUR:

  • Ithaca College (33)
  • Westminster College (37)
  • Valparaiso University (15)
  • University of Evansville (8)
  • The Sage Colleges (3)