University to improve research opportunities

University administrators are launching fellowships and proposing new courses this year in an effort to strengthen undergraduate research opportunities and challenge students.

The programs are part of the University’s Strategic Plan, which focuses on enhancing intellectual engagement and improving academic excellence, among other initiatives. The Strategic Plan includes the University Writing Program, which GW launched this fall.

After conducting exit surveys last year, GW found that many students left the University feeling intellectually unchallenged by the current curriculum.

“Students are coming in with higher expectations about what their academic experience is going to be,” said Cheryl Beil, executive director of academic planning and assessment. “We need to adjust the curriculum to make it more challenging for students.”

The Columbian College of Arts and Sciences added a new research fellowship this year and has several plans in the works.

The Luther Rice Collaborative Research Fellowship, open to all undergraduate CCAS students, will offer scholarships to ten students each year to conduct extensive research on a topic of their choice. Participants will also work closely with a faculty member.

Students have until Dec. 1 to apply for the fellowship, which starts this spring and could continue until the fall, said Robert Churchill, CCAS associate dean. Application details will be available in the next few weeks.

“We want this research to be of a very significant level for the students,” Churchill said. “They’re not just going to be checking test tubes or citations or simply gathering information.”

He said students will become “co-investigators” or “co-authors” in their research projects. The new fellowship is intended to increase undergraduate involvement in research, officials said.

Associate Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies Carol Sigelman said undergraduate research is almost becoming a requirement for students who want to apply to doctoral programs after college, and some students in the past have found it difficult to find opportunities around campus.

“(Research) gives an in-depth education in a field that is often hard to get from a traditional course,” she said.

As a “first step” to involve faculty and students in research programs, Sigelman’s office launched a Web site last month specifically for undergraduates, said Susan Burke, a research information specialist. The site is ~research/undergraduateresearch.

“We’ve gathered all the information (about undergraduate research) in one place,” Burke said. “It provides a list of courses that incorporate field experiences, and it points to places where students can find out about research from other institutions.”

Churchill said GW will hold forums called “Discovery Conversations” in the spring in which faculty members will present their research topics to students. Students from all schools can submit an application to work with a faculty member.

He said Discovery Conversations are still in the “designing stage” but he would like the program to be credit-bearing.

Churchill is also proposing a “sophomore experience” research project but said he has not yet received the “green light.”

He said the program in mind, “Bring Washington Home,” would be seminar-style. Professors would not lecture but would propose a hypothesis or topic for students to investigate and prove or disprove. A majority of the work would be done off-campus.

Sigelman said the research office is collaborating with CCAS to bring new research opportunities to undergraduates, but she is trying to involve all schools.

“We believe we have some extremely gifted students at GW,” Churchill said, “and we want to develop the best possible programs for them.”

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