Mellon Grant Objectives

 

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Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant Objectives

Why Undergraduate Research?

Research shows that student engagement in undergraduate research is consistently linked to desirable educational outcomes. It is also associated with higher levels of self-confidence and self-motivation among students, particularly those from disadvantaged and lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Furthermore, commitment to undergraduate research strengthens institutions of higher education, increasing the overall quality of education, yield and quality of incoming classes, rates of retention and graduation, grants and alumni giving, and reputation. For a review of this literature, read the following from the Council on Undergraduate Research:

     • Assessing the Impact of Undergraduate-Research Experiences on Students (PDF)
     • Faculty Support And Undergraduate Research

Despite these significant advantages, however, faculty often face sizable challenges to engaging in more undergraduate research activities. These challenges include:
     • Differences across divisions and disciplines. Undergraduate research is conducted differently both between and among the different Divisions. What does it mean to do “undergraduate research” in the humanities? What resources are needed and how does this differ from the social sciences or natural sciences?
     • Accounting for faculty evaluation. There is currently no clear policy on how undergraduate research mentorship “counts” in the annual evaluation and tenure/promotion process. How should it fit into this process? Should it count as service, teaching, scholarship, or all of the above?
     • Compensation for faculty mentorship of undergraduate research. Undergraduate research experiences are very often offered by faculty as an “add-on” to existing teaching/service/research assignments. What can be done to compensate faculty for their efforts to offer more mentorship experiences?
     • Summer incentives. Faculty scholarship projects do not often lend themselves immediately or directly to assistance from undergraduate students. The immediate benefit of mentoring an undergraduate student in the summer is thus not obvious. What can be done to increase the incentive for faculty to mentor undergraduate scholarly activities during the summer?

 

It is for these reasons that the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation recently awarded a four-year, $600,000 grant to Centre College aimed specifically at increasing undergraduate research opportunities for our students by overcoming the barriers described above. We recognize that in order to increase student participation in undergraduate research, the above challenges must be resolved. The grant will be administered from fall 2013 though summer 2017.
In sum, the principal goals of this grant include:
     • Increasing the number of students and faculty members who participate in undergraduate research throughout the summer and the academic year.
     • Increasing the frequency of “mentored scholarship” opportunities especially among Divisions 1 and 2 especially, leading to a more even division of undergraduate research activity between the divisions.
     • Enhancing the “culture” of undergraduate research at Centre College through changing practices that will result from a more comprehensive understanding of how undergraduate research factors into faculty evaluation and incentives, as well as desirable student outcomes.

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