Centre receives $600,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation for undergraduate research

Posted by Centre News in Academics, Humanities, News, Research 25 Jul 2013

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Centre College $600,000 to expand undergraduate and student-faculty collaborative research opportunities, particularly in the humanities and social sciences.

Titled “Reaching Across All Disciplines: Broadening the Opportunities for Undergraduate Research Participation,” the four-year grant will also boost existing support for student-faculty collaborative research in the sciences.

Currently, about 37 percent of Centre College seniors report having worked on a research project with a faculty member outside of course or program requirements, according to data from the 2012 National Survey of Student Engagement. These numbers have grown in part as a result of Centre’s RICE symposium, which stands for Research, Internships and Creative Endeavors. Since the inception of RICE six years ago, nearly 1,000 Centre students have participated by making oral presentations or presenting at poster sessions.

The majority of RICE projects have involved science and math majors working with faculty during the summer. In 2012, 80 percent of student-faculty proposals for summer research involved the natural sciences and mathematics.

According to Stephanie Fabritius, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College, the $600,000 grant will be transformative.

rice_symposium2“Undergraduate research that happens beyond the work of the traditional classroom is a high-impact practice,” Fabritius says. “The College aspires to increase the number of these opportunities for students.”

Preparation of the grant proposal was a joint effort throughout much of 2012. Fabritius worked closely with Centre’s Undergraduate Research Committee, co-chaired then by Assistant Professor of Politics Benjamin Knoll and Associate Professor of Physics Jason Neiser and composed of faculty from all disciplines.

Going forward, Knoll will coordinate the grant and co-chair the Undergraduate Research Committee with Assistant Professor of Biology Brian Storz.

The grant will support two new faculty working groups. “One will refine the definitions of undergraduate research and faculty mentorship across all disciplines,” says Fabritius, “and also help develop models to allow for more undergraduate research experiences during the academic year. The other will recommend language and policy for faculty evaluation, both on an annual basis and in the tenure and promotion process.”

In addition, the grant will provide funding for faculty and student research pairs working together during the summer months and in the academic year, summer research “communities,” implementation of “out of the box” ideas such as Theory Camp, and travel and registration for a team from Centre to attend the Council for Undergraduate Research conference. Money will also be available for students to print research findings in professional poster formats and to attend conferences to report on their research.

The Mellon grant comes at a time when the College is working to augment its “Centre Commitment.”
Created in 2002 and now a model nationwide, the Centre Commitment initially guaranteed an internship, study abroad experience, and graduation in four years, provided the student met the College’s academic and social expectations. Just last year, a research component was added to the Centre Commitment. Beginning this fall, with the Class of 2017, students are guaranteed a study abroad experience, the opportunity to pursue either an internship or a research experience, and graduation in four years as part of their Centre education.

Previous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation includes a grant of $452,000 in 2009 for faculty and curriculum development in global citizenship and a grant of $250,000 in 2011 to support East Asian studies.

by Michael Strysick
July 25, 2013

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