Four Clarion University faculty members attended a workshop Sept. 28-30 in Harrisburg, presented by the Council on Undergraduate Research. Susan Prezzano, anthropology; William Barnes, biology; Chunfei Li, physics; and Nancy Falvo, nursing, attended as members of Clarion University’s CUR team. Dr. Susan Turell, associate provost, is also a member of the team.
The workshop was part of an ongoing, system-wide effort to institutionalize undergraduate research at all 14 PASSHE universities and is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation to CUR. PASSHE was one of five systems to be selected from 21 that applied.
Undergraduate research is arguably the preeminent high-impact practice in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Science is a trial and error process of often intentional experimentation during which new knowledge is socially constructed. As with any other art, neither the practical nor intellectual skills can be learned except by doing and practice. Faculty-student research is, therefore, an indispensable part of making Clarion graduates competitive for employment and graduate school.
Moreover, a convincing body of research shows that, as valuable as undergraduate research is for traditional students, it is even more effective for students from underrepresented backgrounds. In this context, undergraduate research is a tool of social justice in providing a more equal opportunity for STEM careers to a diverse population.
In the coming year, the CUR team hopes to build on existing strengths. For example, collaborations between the physics, biology and AGES departments and the Barnes Center for Biotechnology Business Development have resulted in the acquisition of an atomic force microscope, scanning electron microscope and other instruments and facilities which will enable research in nanomaterials synthesis, microbial ecology and anthropology. These capabilities will enable undergraduate research so that students gain hands-on experience in operating state-of-the-art instruments and can apply the theories they have learned in their classes. Not only does this enhance their own career development and qualifications for graduate school or employment in basic research, applied research or corporate research, but in creating real science with their peers and professors, they contribute to the advancement of their fields.
Especially instructive is the application in fields such as anthropology, which are at the interface of classical science and social science. By tradition, anthropologists, especially archaeologists, work with undergraduates on research. Excavations, for example, require enormous amounts of collaborative fieldwork, which fits smoothly with the CUR mission of incorporating students into our research. Students also have opportunities to research and report on the discoveries once they return to the lab. The benefits to students are enormous, including developing critical thinking (no one, not even the professor, knows what will be found,) and training for applied archaeology positions (Cultural Resource Management). Clarion University has an active field program in both cultural anthropology and archaeology.
Although undergraduate research is usually thought of in terms of traditional fields in STEM, the same high-impact principles apply to virtually any professional field. In fact, the team was intrigued by the conjunction of the demands of the “new” STEM pedagogy, which melds classical instruction with hands-on practice, and the “old” ways of teaching musicianship, which employ a complex and sophisticated mixture of received works, theory and performance skill by lecture, personal or small group instruction, individual practice, small group studios and large group rehearsals and performance. Thus, in a sense, the traditional ways of teaching musicianship may be on the leading edge of new ideas about teaching cutting-edge technology.
Clarion University is the high-achieving, nationally recognized, comprehensive university that delivers a personal and challenging academic experience.