March 22, 2007

Forum will highlight undergraduate research

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. — After her sophomore year in college, Prudence M. "Pru" Rice got the chance to put her budding knowledge to work at an archaeological field school.

"I absolutely loved every minute of it," said Rice, now associate vice chancellor for research and director of the Office of Research Development and Administration at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. "I loved being on the dig, doing the research, being outside. I decided right then and there that I would be an archaeologist."

That type of hands-on research experience was difficult for an undergraduate to obtain then. But at SIUC, it's becoming more the norm than the exception. And that means undergraduates are experiencing one of the best forms of education there is: active problem-solving and research.

An event later this month will highlight undergraduate research at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The sixth annual Undergraduate Research Forum is set for 1-3:30 p.m. Monday, March 26, in the SIUC Student Center ballrooms.

About 50 students from various departments will present their research efforts using informational posters. Organizers also will provide refreshments.

At 3:30 p.m., organizers will announce the winners of the forum and the next year's REACH awards. Organizers will give out about 20, $1,500 REACH awards, which help students defray the cost of doing research. REACH is an acronym for Research Enriched Academic Challenge.

Audience members also will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite research project, selecting a "people's choice" award.

Rice said the idea of involving undergraduates in research grew out of a document put together during the 1990s called the Boyer Report, which discussed reforming undergraduate education. Many universities adopted undergraduate research opportunities in the report's wake. SIUC did so in about 1999.

As it was with her own undergraduate research at the archaeological field school, Rice said SIUC undergraduates also benefit greatly from the arrangement.

"Undergraduates need to be involved in the excitement of doing original research," she said. "Research and teaching are not separate things. The best teaching is done by the people who are active in their own fields, doing research, writing and publishing. Students understand their major better when they actively do research and other scholarly activity. The students are asking the questions, which means they are doing active learning."

John A. Koropchak, vice chancellor for research and dean of the graduate school at SIUC, said the University emphasizes involving undergraduates in research.

"Doing research is a chance for undergraduates to optimize their potential by pushing the limits of their abilities," Koropchak said. "They work in concert with a faculty member who is an expert in the field. It's a very advanced form of teaching and learning. They're actually involved in creating new knowledge. It's something that will help carry that student down the road."