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This thesis is an investigation into undergraduate research, experiential learning, and creative scholarship as it relates to Western Michigan University (WMU). Data mining was used to analyze the state of undergraduate research activity (URA) nationally. Surveys, interviews, and focus groups were used to examine both faculty and undergraduate opinion of the state of URA specifically at WMU. The goal of this thesis is to help establish a framework for what a successful undergraduate research program would look like at WMU.
Previous literature shows benefits for both institutions and students, including higher retention rates, stronger graduate outcomes, and increased satisfaction levels for students and faculty. National results show that institutions with better URA rankings had better US News Rankings and retention rates; WMU could stand to gain over $350,000 in tuition per year from the increase in retention rate due to a program like this. While WMU does offer undergraduate opportunities, positions often prefer junior/senior candidates, negating institutional benefits of increased retention for underclassmen. Faculty fear the workload of mentorship but do see benefits in including undergraduates in research. However, they do not trust 1st and 2nd year students, who lack experience and training. Meanwhile, undergraduates are frustrated about the small number and poor advertising of opportunities. They say the opportunities are strong and valuable, but attaining them proves most difficult, even for highly qualified students.
Recommendations: Have a third party collect project opportunities from faculty, curating opportunities targeted toward 1st and 2nd year students who work in a team. Offer specific, short trainings about research (methodology, programs) for varied disciplines. Assign peer research mentors as a buffer between faculty and undergraduates, reducing faculty burden. Compensate students with either academic credit or pay. Lastly, make sure the program is beneficial for all parties involved, as the success of such a program could significantly affect WMU’s standing.
Browning, Nathan, "The Context for an Undergraduate Research Program at Western Michigan University" (2018). Honors Theses. 2996.
Honors Thesis-Open Access