Engaging Students in Research

By Courtney Lappas

At LVC, we strive to provide students with an education that does not merely introduce them to vast bodies of information with which they must become familiar, but also endows them with the ability to approach with confidence that which is not yet known.  B.F. Skinner once said that “education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.”  Many of the facts, figures, and methodologies that we teach our students will be rapidly forgotten or become obsolete as scientific, technological, and theoretical advances propel our disciplines forward. What cannot be forgotten or become obsolete, however, is the ability to think logically, the capacity to ask and answer significant questions.  These skills are not innate.  They are learned through experience, and a central component of these experiences is the opportunity to conduct original research.  By engaging students in research, we provide them with a vehicle for personal and professional growth–to become “world-ready.”  Many of our students publish peer-reviewed papers with faculty members and present research projects at local, regional, and national conferences. Through these experiences, students learn to be critical thinker who are persistent, resourceful, and objective.

Mentoring undergraduates is not easy.  To the contrary, it is often difficult.  It requires significant time outside of our already heavy teaching load, and may even impede our own scholarly endeavors. It is, however, an integral component of our role as educators, and can be exceedingly rewarding.  I have observed a student beam with pride at a national meeting as he realized that our poster, which bore the LVC logo, was sandwiched between those that bore the emblems of Johns Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health. I have watched a student excitedly rush into my office to show me the journal issue in which our research paper was published.  And I have seen summer research students begin the fall semester with a new found sense of confidence and purpose.

LVC is not unique in its efforts to engage students in research:  liberal arts colleges across the country offer similar opportunities.  This fact does not diminish our efforts, but rather underscores their importance.  The opportunity to participate in research experiences is no longer a luxury, but rather a necessity if our students are to be “world-ready,” able to compete in the job and graduate school markets.  If we truly seek to empower students to pursue a life of learning, citizenship, and success, we must continue to teach them.

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