December 22, 2010

Office for Undergraduate Research Set to Open in Response to Accreditation Review

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The Office for Undergraduate Research will open in January to provide required data for the upcoming Middle States Commission on Higher Education accreditation report, according to the director of the new office, Prof. Laurel Southard, biology.

“Cornell had to write a report on undergraduate research and they couldn’t count the numbers,” Southard said.

Every 10 years, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education reevaluates Cornell for accreditation and in the process, the University must complete a self-study.

“Because of Cornell’s decentralized administrative functions, it is difficult to compile comparative data on undergraduate research,” the draft of the self-study report says. The data currently provided in the draft report comes from a voluntary 2010 Senior Survey.

The draft report recommends Cornell establish “an organized system or resource … to support and highlight undergraduate research.”

“As a result of the accreditation study, we realized that we didn’t have a process to count the students,” Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Laura Brown said.

Southard will report to Brown as the office is in its beginning stages. Southard said she hopes the center will move out of its initial location in Day Hall and into another building “by the beginning of the next academic year” because Day Hall, an administrative building, may not be adequately accessible to students.

“Once the center opens up, we hope to staff it with undergrads,” Southard said.

Southard said she hopes the office will increase student participation, making it easier for students to learn about research prospects.

“It will be a place where we can make available student opportunities, we can help faculty find students to work with them, and down the road to help with funding opportunities,” Southard said.

In 2008, Cornell conducted a study estimating the percentage of students in each college conducting undergraduate research.

According to the 2008 to 2009 estimates, approximately 29 percent of the College of Engineering, 15 percent of the College of Arts and Sciences, 24 percent of the College of Human Ecology, 8 percent of the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences and between 4 and 9 percent of Hotel Administration students participated in research projects during their undergraduate years at Cornell. The University did not make estimates for students in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.

Southard recognized that there are more research prospects in the sciences than in the humanities.

“I think my challenge is in the humanities,” Southard said. “There’s not much funding there and it’s a bit of a different world …We need to turn our attention to the underutilized [research] areas at Cornell.”

Southard said she believes that the new office will lead to more publicity and awareness of the current research.

“There hasn’t been a loud voice for undergraduate research,” she said. “It’s badly needed.”

The new office will also help bring in greater funding for undergraduate research, according to Southard.

“Right now, we don’t have any more support, but my hope is that we can start working with donors and writing grants,” Southard said.

Brown, the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, explained that many of the University’s peer institutions have similar offices to track undergraduate participation and research opportunities. The University of Pennsylvania’s office for undergraduate research provides a model for the Cornell office, and Brown also cited Stanford’s research office as a good example to follow.

However, while Brown defined research as “direct engagement with the creation of knowledge alongside a faculty member who’s engaged in primary research,” other schools differ in their definition of research.

“MIT has an interesting rule that students don’t get credit for research, they get paid. They have a very good count as to how many students do research,” Southard said.

Original Author: Max Schindler