Research: Not just for grad students

Missouri S&T is known for providing its undergraduates with lots of opportunities for hands-on learning, and research is a big part of that. Missouri S&T Magazine staff asked Jeffrey D. Cawlfield, vice provost for undergraduate studies, to share his views about the importance of providing research opportunities for undergraduate students.

Why is research important for undergraduate students?

Studies have found that undergraduates who performed experiential learning activities outside the traditional classroom structure are more likely to graduate and be more satisfied with their major. Undergraduate research undertaken at an early point in a student’s career is often cited as an example. The National Survey of Student Engagement recently conducted a survey of nearly 335,000 first-year and senior students, and found that first-year students who participated in at least one program — like a learning community, service-learning or research with a faculty member — reported greater knowledge, skills and personal development. They were more satisfied with their whole college experience, and more likely to choose the same institution if they were to start over again.

How does it benefit a student? 

Experiential learning activities contribute to a student’s self-confidence, which leads to motivation, which drives student engagement and success. It’s a simple premise: a student participates in an undergraduate research project, has meaningful interactions with a faculty member and other students, overcomes some challenges and roadblocks, successfully completes the research experience, and emerges with more self-confidence. That builds motivation and engagement with classwork and commitment to the major field of study. A student who participates in study abroad, internship or co-op, or student design teams could see the same benefit.

How does research inspire creative thinking in undergraduate students?  

Research is often a lot like a trouble-shooting assignment. You have to do some trial-and-error to figure out the best alternatives because a single best solution may not exist. Often the most difficult aspect of a research project is actually figuring out the correct questions to ask, rather than trying to immediately answer the first question posed. Studies have shown that students who participate in undergraduate research with faculty are more likely to persist, gain more intellectually and personally, and choose research-related fields as a career. γ

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