When Undergraduate Research is More Than an Assignment

Sept. 24, 2019

A couple of weeks ago Chancellor Cartwright and I shared a meal with faculty who are productive researchers and effective mentors. This group spoke to us about their commitment to mentoring undergraduate students on research skills. To say that the faculty at the table were passionate about undergraduate research is an understatement. What did I learn?

  1. Our mission at MU brings together the creation of knowledge via path-breaking research, as well as the sharing of this knowledge inside and outside the classroom. When this process works well it inspires our students to learn, and to learn how to learn. Continuous inquiry born of curiosity prompts search and rigorous research, no matter the area of study. As a research institution, our goal is to share the joys of scientific inquiry as much as it is to share the findings from such inquiry. The faculty at the dinner table did just that. They engaged in conversations that nudged students to become curious, to ask questions and to want to seek answers. They shared stories of students they have mentored, the career paths they chose – not surprisingly, many of the mentored students have gone on to become highly successful. Curiosity is not age or time limited and can be the biggest gift we give to our students.
  2. Student success is a term we hear and use quite often. Our responsibility to students does not end with a class we teach or office hours we facilitate. Ensuring that students find the right fit, be it the choice of a major or the pursuit of a career, matters. To this end, every faculty member at the table spoke of instances where they connected students with colleagues whose work was a better fit with the student’s interest than their own. To these faculty members it was not about them, it was about the student and their success. The work they did was not required nor asked – they did it because they believe in our students and they care.

Thank you Professors Arndt, Balakrishnan, Hunt, Phillips, Pires, Wagovich, and Woelfel. And if you want to really appreciate how carefully this group thinks about helping students become comfortable with research, just email Prof. Heather Hunt and ask her for The Handbook – you will not be disappointed.

Your turn – what do you do to help students succeed?