Reports: SE

48027-SE The Role of Primarily Undergraduate Institutions in Transformative Research, June 10-12, 2009, Snowbird, UT

Nancy Hensel, Council on Undergraduate Research

On June 10-12, 2009 a summit on Transformative Research at predominately undergraduate institutions (PIUs) was held in Snowbird, Utah.  Twenty-four leading scientists from PUIs came together for three days to discuss the ways in which transformative research can be conducted at PUIs, the challenges and advantages of doing transformative research at PUIs, and developed a series of recommendations.  At the completion of the summit, the participants agreed to write chapters, highlights, and provide examples of transformative research for a monograph that will be published in winter, 2010.  The monograph will be distributed to undergraduate institutions and posted on the CUR website. 

The Summit was moderated by Arthur Ellis, Vice Chancellor for Research, University of California, San Diego.  Speakers were:  James Gentile, President of Research Corporation for Science Advancement; Thomas Wenzel, Professor of Chemistry, Bates College; Julio Ramirez, R. Stuart Dickson Professor of Psychology, Davidson College; Paula Dehn, Dean of the College and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Kentucky Wesleyan College; Sean Decatur, Dean of Arts and Sciences, Oberlin College; and Moses Lee, Professor of Chemistry and Dean of Natural and Applied Scieces, Hope College.  Major Findings:  Summit participants confirmed that transformative research is occurring at predominately undergraduate institutions and undergraduates are involved as researchers.  Summit participants discussed the advantages of PUIs for research that might be considered “risky” for doctoral students or faculty at research universities.  Because doctoral students must complete their dissertation within a given time frame, the research project needs to be one in which they will have acceptable results.  The pressure for success in findings of research projects is significantly less for undergraduate students; therefore, they can tackle more risky projects.  Since faculty at PUIs are not as dependent on grant funding, they also can take more risks in developing their research agenda.  Predominately undergraduate institutions also do not have the pressure that many public research universities face in terms of contributing to their state’s economic development by discoveries in science and technology.  On the other hand, PUIs are not as engaged as they might be in technology transfer and product development that may result from undergraduate research.  Small colleges and universities do not necessarily have the support structure to seek patents and opportunities for venture capitol.  This is an area where they could use additional support.

Participants also discussed the NSF definition of transformative research and felt that the definition could apply to some projects at PUIs.  We are now in the process of collecting examples of potentially transformative research to include in the monograph that is in progress.

Participants stressed that undergraduate education needs to emphasize innovation and risk taking if graduates are to engage in transformative research in their future careers.  There was a sense that developing the processes for innovative thinking and a comfort with risk taking early in a student’s education would have pay off later in their professional development.

We are developing a monograph on transformative research at predominately undergraduate institutions.  All the chapters have been received and the monograph should be published by Janauary 2010. The monograph will be sent to 600 campuses that are engaged in undergraduate research.  It will also be posted on the CUR website. When the monograph is complete, we plan to host a Congressional Briefing on transformative research at small colleges. An outline of the monograph is below:

Table of Contents

Preface/Foreword - Art Ellis

Executive Summary of Summit and Recommendations - Tom Wenzel and the entire planning committee (Nancy Hensel, Paula Dehn, Beth Cunningham, Kerry Karukstis)

Why Should Undergraduates and Primarily Undergraduate Institutions (PUIs) Be Involved in Transformative Research? - Tom Wenzel

Why and how should funding agencies support transformative research? - Silvia Ronco

How do we promote transformative research at PUI's?  Two chapters. Julio Ramirez, Paula Dehn

Supporting potentially transformative research from the administrator's perspective including a discussion on promotion and tenure policies - Beth Cunningham, Neal Abraham, Paula Dehn, Jeff Osborn, Sean Decatur, Moses Lee

Role of department chairs in promoting/and supporting TR - Diane Husic

Models of successful collaborations - Jeff Ryan and Lisette de Pillis

How curricula can support UR and how the creation of a TR environment enhances the educational experience of undergraduates - Ginger Withers and Jerusha Detweiler-Bedell

Multiple approaches to transformative research (i.e., along the two-way continuum connecting basic and user-inspired research).  Kerry Karukstis

Alternative sources of funding-issues associated with contract work including recommendations on how to approach industrial sponsors - Nancy Mills

Highlights of research projects - Various authors

Appendices - including list of participants, recommended references, sample intellectual property policies, etc.

The project, through the monograph on transformative research, will suggest ways in which faculty can assist undergraduate students in developing the skills they will need to engage in transformative research in their future careers as scientists.  These skills include critical and creative thinking and the ability to tolerate risk and possibly failure in research.  While many undergraduate institutions include undergraduate research in the curriculum and address critical and creative thinking skills, most have probably not had a targeted focus on developing the skills necessary for high level innovation and discovery.  This project hopes to promote these skills by widely disseminating information about how potentially transformative research can be conducted with undergraduate students.  These are important workforce skills and have been identified as significant in terms of America’s ability to compete in an increasingly competitive global economy. 

The Project was funded by American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund, Research Corporation for Science Advancement, and the National Science Foundation.

Funds expended to date are:
Catering and meeting room costs: $13,633
Participant travel: $11,132
Editing of the manuscript: $3,150
Total: $27,915

Remaining Expenses
Design, printing and mailing of monograph: $7,000