Vol. 17, No. 30May 7, 1998

Undergraduate research offers range of opportunities

Martha Carothers, art, assists student researcher Rob Corradetti

The UD Undergraduate Research Program (URP) has been a trailblazer in providing opportunities for research experience for capable and motivated students. A new reporting arrangement under the Office of the Vice Provost for Academic Programs and Planning will provide more opportunities for expansion and make the program better able to consolidate information about different options. The change also is designed to give the program greater visibility and accessibility on and off the campus, according to John Cavanaugh.

Originally created in 1980 under the umbrella of the University Honors Program, URP now is a separate entity.

"The University's Undergraduate Research Program has been a model for other institutions seeking to integrate research programs and discovery learning into their curriculum," Cavanaugh said.

"The program also has attracted excellent students to the University, and our goal is to increase the opportunities for research and other interactive learning options, as a part of the University's commitment to problem-based and hands-on learning experiences," he added.

"We are in the planning stage at this time, but one objective is to make information about research opportunities, internships and study abroad programs easier to obtain. The ultimate goal is that every UD undergraduate have options for learning experiences outside the classroom," Cavanaugh said.

One measure of the URP's success is that in 1997 UD was selected from more than 100 research-intensive universities nationwide to receive a three-year $500,000 Recognition Award for the Integration of Research and Education (RAIRE) from the National Science Foundation.

According to Joan Bennett, who has coordinated URP since its beginning, the RAIRE grant will help endow some summer scholarships for research.

"We have had approximately 500 students, two-thirds of whom are in engineering and science, participating from departments all across the campus in undergraduate research each year, but there are many other qualified students who could benefit," Bennett said. "One of our long-term goals is to have endowed research scholarships, and the RAIRE grant will give us a start.

"The grant also is to be used to survey our alumni and see what the Undergraduate Research Program has meant to them and to learn what effect it has had on their lives after graduation," Bennet said. "We hear from former students informally, and we are impressed by the leadership roles many have assumed. Some have become faculty at other colleges and instigated undergraduate research opportunities in their own departments. The RAIRE grant will enable us to collect this information systematically, and use it for future planning."

Another phase of the RAIRE grant is disseminating information about the program to other schools and institutions through conferences and workshops.

The RAIRE grant also recognizes the UD Institute for Transforming Undergraduate Education, which helps faculty to bring technology and discovery-based learning into the classroom. More than 60 percent of all faculty are undergraduate research mentors.

According to Margaret Andersen, interim dean of the College of Arts and Science, "undergraduate education is greatly enriched by providing students with opportunities to discover new knowledge with a faculty mentor.

"Undergraduate research projects and internships help students develop the skills and self-confidence that will serve them well when they leave the University. Providing more such opportunities to our undergraduate students is an important priority," she said.

URP has long been an integral part of the College of Engineering with approximately 75 engineering students involved in research programs each year.

As Stuart Cooper, dean of the college and H. Rodney Sharp Professor Chemical Engineering, wrote in the college's newsletter in 1996, "To become an integral member of society, students need to develop critical thinking abilities, search for original solutions to world problems, exercise their leadership and communication skills, learn how to work in a team...One of the ways we supplement the learning that goes on in our classrooms is through our undergraduate research program. Students, some as early as their sophomore year, are able to work with faculty in a variety of ongoing research projects. This experience enables students to make connections between classroom knowledge and engineering applications."

Cavanaugh pointed out, "In keeping with the mission of the University, the overall goal of a centralized undergraduate research program is to enhance a University of Delaware education for students by focusing on opportunities for independent study and research outside the classroom. Discovery learning based on a solid classroom foundation is relevant to students' futures. By making the Undergraduate Research Program a separate entity, we plan to help students become aware of the many opportunities that exist for them," Cavanaugh said.

-Sue Swyers Moncure
Photo by Jack Buxbaum