August 22, 2008

SIUC expands research opportunities to freshmen

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Freshmen will join in the hands-on research previously reserved for upperclassmen, graduate students and faculty under a new program this fall at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Organizers said the new program, called Research Rookies, will give the new students a chance to experience the thrills of discovering new knowledge while introducing them more quickly to the nuts and bolts of their chosen majors.

“We were looking for a way for the University to engage freshmen in research,” said Julia Spears, an associate director in the Office of Research Development Administration at SIUC, who is running the program. “We’ve seen there are huge benefits, both personal and academic, when a student gets involved in a discipline like this. It brings to life what they’re learning in the classroom and helps them make those connections.”

Officials at SIUC for several years have pushed for more opportunities for undergraduate research, using programs such as REACH, McNair Scholars and various undergraduate assistantships. John A. Koropchak, vice chancellor for research and dean of the graduate school, said getting students involved in research early on motivates them and stimulates curiosity and original thinking. Research Rookies is another effort in that direction.

“By engaging in theses activities with faculty, we believe that we not only provide experience, but also develop connections within the University that will increase retention,” Koropchak said.

Spears said organizers intended to start out slowly with the program, raising enough money from various offices around campus to fund 15 students. After minimal advertising, however, at least twice as many students have contacted the office expressing interest in the program.

Spears, who also manages the McNair Scholars program, said one reason she pushed for the program was feedback from those students, who are upperclassmen.

“They would always say how they wished they could have gotten into something like (McNair Scholars) sooner, like when they were freshmen or sophomores,” Spears said. “So this is a way for incoming students to get a better sense of their intended major early in their career. It’s a way for them to get into their discipline earlier and build relationships with faculty, upper-level students and grad students in their field.”

Students chosen for the first class of Research Rookies will begin by meeting with their fellow students this fall. Organizers will teach the students how to find resources on the vast SIUC campus and introduce them to faculty members.

By November, organizers will match students with faculty mentors and together the two will design a research project for spring semester, Spears said. In spring, the student will conduct the research under the direction of the faculty mentor, making a presentation in July at the annual McNair Scholars symposium

Each student who successfully completes the Research Rookies program is eligible for $500 in awards and scholarships.

For more information on the program, contact Spears at 618/453-4585 or