|Vol. 17, No. 15||Dec. 18, 1997|
President David P. Roselle identified a fifth institutional goal during the Dec. 17 semiannual meeting of the Board of Trustees, calling for expanded programmatic efforts to help UD students become lifelong learners-especially through undergraduate research opportunities and "discovery-based learning" in classrooms.
Nicole Kurz (right), one of five undergraduate researchers within UD's expanding Language and Cognition Laboratory, supervised by Barbara Landau, psychology, conducts a word-learning experiment with toddler Caroline Stahley.
For the past seven years, Roselle noted, he has repeatedly emphasized the need to achieve four key goals:
A student-friendly institution;
Compensation for faculty and staff has become competitive and support for scholarships has grown markedly. New construction- including Gore Hall, MBNA America Hall, Allen Laboratory, the Bob Carpenter Sports/Convocation Center, Lammot Du Pont Laboratory, Colburn Laboratory and Munroe Hall, coupled with renovations to a series of historic campus buildings- has dramatically improved UD's physical infrastructure, Roselle said.
Carefully considered programmatic improvements, and especially increased support for undergraduate research, represent the next challenge on UD's horizon, according to Roselle.
With students such as newly named Rhodes scholar Douglas Mauro de Lorenzo as participants in this effort, Roselle said, "The University's future is a bright one, indeed."
De Lorenzo, who on Dec. 6 became the third University of Delaware student in 70 years, and the second in the 1990s to win a Rhodes Scholarship, has completed in just three years all requirements for a bachelor's degree in cognitive science, as well as a master's degree in linguistics. He also has applied his linguistic skills to real-world problems, contributing to the world around him through gifts of his time and his extraordinary talents, Roselle said. His contributions have included, for instance, efforts to help refugees from war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina and Liberia.
Currently, de Lorenzo is working with Barbara Landau, psychology, to better understand Williams Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder resulting from a deletion on chromosome seven, which results in a profound spatial deficit. Ultimately, Roselle said, the study may explain why people with the disorder exhibit excellent language and, often, musical skills-and therefore, how they can best learn and communicate.
Roselle told the trustees he was discussing de Lorenzo's accomplishments "not only because they're special but also because they exemplify an emphasis on programs at the University, with a focus on undergraduate research and discovery-based learning."
Landau's supervision of de Lorenzo's research "represents nicely the very common willingness of the University's faculty to involve undergraduates in their scholarly inquiries," Roselle added.
For de Lorenzo, undergraduate research opportunities were a major factor in UD's favor when he was auditioning dozens of other institutions. "The University has allowed me to pretend that I was a graduate student," he said.
While extraordinary, de Lorenzo is by no means an anomaly within the UD community, Roselle said. Interest in undergraduate research has gained momentum campus-wide since 1990. More than 90 percent of all engineering, biological and physical science professors now actively participate in providing hands-on opportunities. Student interest is also growing rapidly, he said, with more and more exemplary young scholars joining their faculty and graduate students in the pursuit of new knowledge.
Undergraduate students at UD may gain research experience through laboratory-based projects, supervised by a faculty mentor and coordinated through the Honors Program-or in the classroom, as part of an expanding focus on discovery-based learning, or problem-based learning, as it is also known, Roselle noted.
These approaches are mutually supportive, he said. Faculty members who have supervised individual undergraduates have gained insights into the learning process and have brought this knowledge to bear in the classroom.
Campus-wide, interest in discovery-based learning techniques by faculty members has increased dramatically since 1992. "Just five years ago," Roselle said, "exactly seven faculty members began to implement techniques of discovery-based instruction. Their goal was to have students investigate real-world problems, ranging from global warming to the authenticity of ancient sculptures."
Since then, he reported, 206 faculty from 42 different UD departments and 22 administrators representing 15 units have completed training in the techniques that support such instruction. Moreover, 105 faculty and administrators from other institutions throughout the United States and four other countries have attended UD workshops on problem-based learning.
An increasing number of undergraduates is taking part in a Science and Engineering Scholars program, which funds 10-week summer research apprenticeships for UD's most talented and highly motivated undergraduates, Roselle said, drawing on information provided by Joan Bennett, University Honors Program. In 1996, 96 young scholars participated in summer research apprenticeships, according to Bennett.
These and similar efforts were applauded by the National Science Foundation earlier this year, when UD was one of only 10 institutions nationwide to receive a $500,000 Recognition Award for the Integration of Research and Education (RAIRE).
With the increased campus-wide emphasis on undergraduate research, "a very special underlying philosophy has emerged at UD," Roselle said. "It seems that for many of today's undergraduate researchers, scholarly goals are pursued not merely for their own sake, but as a tool for helping individuals and families, for strengthening communities and for making the world a better place through technological, scientific and managerial innovations."
Over the past few years, he said, the cumulative impact of these undergraduate contributions has been "a more intellectually stimulating and supportive living and learning environment, where even the youngest students are encouraged to achieve their full potential."
The president also told the trustees about Amy Whitcomb. A senior from Wilmington, Del., Whitcomb was majoring in Early Childhood Development, pursuing a concentration in Young Exceptionals, when she realized her academic studies might be meaningless without field experience. So, she approached her mentor, Michael Gamel-McCormick, individual and family studies.
Co-director of a new $4.4 million Early Head Start effort to help improve the quality of life for lower-income children and their families, Gamel-McCormick joined the UD faculty two years ago and has already supervised 12 undergraduates. He helped Amy arrange an independent-study project at The Sterck School. She now works directly with children who are both deaf and blind, helping them develop essential communications skills.
According to Peggy Lashbrook, director of the Sterck School's deaf/ blind program, Roselle said, Whitcomb's project provided educators there with "a wonderful opportunity to take advantage of research support." The project has been a powerful learning experience for Whitcomb, too.
Meanwhile, undergraduates in the lab of Roberta Golinkoff, educational studies-especially students Melissa Buxbaum and Lindsay Ganis-are conducting research that may help linguists, developmental psychologists and educators determine the specific mechanisms by which children learn new words, Roselle reported. Both students plan to pursue graduate studies in the field of speech pathology.
Undergraduate researchers at UD are also preparing for careers aimed at stimulating economic development, enhancing U.S. technological competitiveness and "furthering our fundamental scientific understanding of the world around us," Roselle said.
In the lab of Daniel W. van der Weide, electrical and computer engineering, for example, a growing cadre of undergraduate researchers is working in the new $2.88 million, state-supported Center for Nanomachined Surfaces, developing ultra-small instruments and techniques for polishing and characterizing the surfaces of computer chips.
As one of 20 younger researchers nationwide to receive a 1997 National Science Foundation Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, van der Weide manages a $500,000 grant supporting new technologies-as well as undergraduate research opportunities.
Interacting with a researcher of van der Weide's stature on a one-to-one basis "is an experience that benefits undergraduates immensely and fosters a creative environment," student Rob March says. Another undergraduate, Jonathan Bergey, credits van der Weide with prompting him to pursue a graduate degree in the field. Throughout his apprenticeship, Bergey says that his mentor "allowed me to become an integral member of his research group."
Such intensive research experience at an early age helps UD undergraduates compete more effectively for graduate programs and jobs, Roselle said, and it better prepares them for advanced investigations. Last month, for example, he said, recent UD graduate A. Mark Settles became one of the very few scientists-whether young or approaching retirement-to have his or her work featured on the cover of the journal, Science. Settles, first author of the Science article, is now a Ph.D. candidate at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory of SUNY at Stony Brook. He is investigating the molecular biology of maize.
Settles' UD mentor, Sheella Mierson, biology, said that undergraduate research gave him the skills he needed to prepare a successful paper for a highly exclusive, peer-reviewed journal, Roselle reported. Settles also learned how to write a research proposal, keep accurate data logs and identify advisors capable of helping further his education and career, according to Mierson.
At the trustees' meeting, Roselle also cited several other examples of recent UD graduates who conducted outstanding undergraduate research projects, including:
"Whether the goal of an undergraduate research initiative is to stimulate a classroom discussion of the chemical kinetics of explosions, to promote healthier lifestyles among homeless women, or to learn more about the molecular structure of an agricultural crop," he said, "the inevitable result is enhanced learning by students."
To increase the number and broaden the scope of undergraduate research opportunities at UD, he said, the institution currently plans to expand the number of Honors Program projects awarded each year-from a current level of 500 to 800 within the next four years.
And, he said, the ranks of discovery-based learning-trained faculty members should increase dramatically by the 21st century, thereby drawing more students like Jonathan Bergey into the scientific process.
Bergey said such experiences help undergraduates become "more marketable, versatile and more importantly, better students across the board."
All new programs create special needs, Roselle told the trustees. In the case of undergraduate research, he said, "Our most pressing need is for summer research scholarships. We will be working on that issue."
In addition, he said, "what we teach our students is very important. However, that importance is rivaled and perhaps even exceeded by how we teach our students."
Once UD educators impart the excitement of intellectual discovery to our students, he said, "they are far more likely to continue to learn and continue to make intellectual inquiries throughout the remainder of their lives. It is for this reason that we are planning to undertake a much more aggressive program of discovery-based teaching and learning for undergraduates."
In keeping with existing priorities, he said:
Amy Whitcomb, an undergraduate researcher directed by Michael Gamel-McCormick, individual and family studies, works with a student at The Sterck School, as part of an effort to assist and learn more about people who are deaf and blind.
Daniel W. van der Weide, electrical and computer engineering, supervises a growing cadre of undergraduate researchers, including Rob March (right), who works in the new $2.88 million Center for Nanomachined Surfaces, investigating strategies to improve the surfaces of computer chips.
Photos by Robert Cohen