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faculty development, course improvement, and student re- search projects. ... 1954 a t Washington and Lee University;and the second was sponsored by t...
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Undergraduate Research As Chemical Education A Symposium


Undergraduate Research as Chemical Education Report of a Symposium Jerry R. Mohrig Carleton College, Northfield, MN 55057 Gene G. Wubbels Grinnell College, Grinnell, IA 50112 In September 1982. the Division of Chemical Education and the ~ o " n c i lon Undergraduate Hesearrh sponsored a symuusium on "L'ndermaduate Research as Chemical Education" it the National A& Meeting in Kansas City. I t was designed to examine the educational rationale for research a t the undergraduate level, as well as its problems and prospects. As organizers of the symposium, we wish to report on its main themes because we believe that they are important to the future of chemical education. Our paper summarizes the origins and several topics of the symposium. The following articles, written by five of the speakers, present insights into undergraduate research from diverse perspectives. Organized in 1978, the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) is a nonprofit association which seeks to promote research involving students of chemistry in predominantly undergraduate colleges. The governing body is a group of 21 councillors drawn from chemistry faculties a t four-year colleges and universities throughout the United States. CUR collects and disseminates information on undergraduate research and works to improve its climate and support through triennial publication of a directory,' thrice-yearly publication of a newsletter,Z and sponsorship of meetings and conferences. More than 200 chemistry departments subscribe to the newsletter. Several factors stimulated CUR to organize the symposium. In 1981, after several years of painful decline in funding levels, the National Science Foundation discontinued all of its college-level science education programs, except for graduate fellowshins. T- o manv of us this dramatic act meant that college chemistry departments faced some critical decisions. A significant source of funds was no longer available to finance faculty development, course improvement, and student research projects. I t seemed an appropriate time to assess our direction and possibly to chart a new course. In addition, the educational and . nroeram henefits of research in undereraduate chemistry departments and the difficulties in carrying i t out had received little national attention in recent years. Undergraduate research in chemistry was thesubject of twu cunierenres in the 1950's: the first was sponsured by NSF in 1954 a t Washington and Lee University;and the second was sponsored by the Division of Chemical Education and the NSF a t the College of Wooster in 1959. Both were aimed a t assessing the feasibility and desirability of undergraduate research. T o our knowledge no national meeting has evaluated research in the undergraduate setting since the 1950's, even though a quarter of the bachelor's degrees awarded in chemistry (1980) are from departments which have no doctoral program. The symposium papers represented a number of themes related to undergraduate research. Principal among them was the theme of research as chemical education, or "what does research teach the student participants?" Also dealt with were the important questions of what research does for scientific progress, for the faculty memher, and for the department; of ~




Research grants to private undergraduate institutions (1980).Len, distribution in dollars: right, distrlbution in number of grants. how to initiate and sustain research; of possibilities for funding; and of the varying patterns of research activity. The symposium attracted a large, interested audience and many of the papers prompted actiye discussion. All-in-all, the speakers gave high marks to undergraduate research. Because of space limitations, we include here only five full articles selected from the four invited and nine contributed papers presented a t the symposium. We shall let the five speak for themselves and shall mention briefly highlights of the other presentations as they pertain to the main themes of the symposium. The educational benefits of research were emphasized in the papers by Joseph Bunnett (which follows) and Robert West (University of Wisconsin-Madison). West remarked during his review of undergraduate research efforts a t Wisconsin that research did indeed limit course work. hut that what students learned in research more than compensated for the loss. In addition to learning the specific chemistry and techniques involved in the project, students acquired insights about ~ossihlecareers and how "real" chemistw is conducted. ~ a m u eWilen l (The City College of CUNY) emphasized that research has articular value in the trainine of disadvantaeed students. since many such students mayhave no personal knowledge of professional persons or activities, serious research may constitute the& first glimpse of a professional career. Luther Eriekson (Grinnell College) pointed out that, whereas there are many good reasons for doing undergraduate research, students and faculty finally do it because it is fun. Rrsearrh is an integral part of what any chemist or chrmistry professor does to u,arrant the title, and one does not enter a profession or succeed in i t without knowing that its pursuits give pleasure and satisfaction. These aspects must he con-

' "Research in Chemistryat Private Undergraduate Colleges." 2nd Ed.. Council on Undergraduate Research, 6840 E. Broadway Boulevard, Tucson. AZ 85710,1981. "Council on Undergraduate Research Newsletter." (Mitor: Michael P. Doyle) Department of Chemistry, Hope College, Holland Michigan 49423.

Volume 61 Number 6 June 1984


veved to students or we shall fail to make a lastinn-positive . impression on them. The papers by Corwin Hansch, Nancy Mills, and J a c k Pladziewicz, which are included here, dealt mainly with programmatic aspects of research and its effects on faculty members. In addition, Thomas Werner (Union College) pointed out that research benefitted faculty and their departments because the better students tend to he attracted by active research programs. He also noted that research and the attendant seminars remedy the widespread problem of having to devote much of one's time to teaching introductory courses. The funding situation was touched on by several speakers mentioned above, and directly addressed hy Michael Doyle (Hope College), Kenneth Hancock (National Science Foundation), Joseph Rogers (Petroleum Research Fund of the American Chemical Society), and Douglas Neckers (Bowling Green State University). Doyle noted that the lion's share (71%) of research grants listed by the 123 colleges included in the most recent edition of the directory, "Research in Chemistry a t Private Undergraduate Colleges," was awarded bv the Petroleum Research Fund and the Research Corporation. Federal support from all sourres contributes over hall of thedollars, but it affects only a small number of institutiuns because the large grants are few in numher. He summarized hisdata in the circular eraohsshown in the firmre. In addition, Doyle pointed out t K a i a disturbing decrease in proposal pressure, even to funding agencies with a long tradition of support for research at predominantly undergraduate institutions, has been evident in recent years. Hancock noted that NSF supports asignificant amount of undereraduate research through grants a t PhD-granting school^ and also supports a few rese&chers at undergraduati mlleges. The success rate for propusals from the latter schools is similar to those from universities, hut NSF experiences little proposal pressure from undergraduate colleges. He pointed out also the add-on feature of NSF grants a t universities which, at the initiative of the principal investigator, may fund cooperative research by a college teacher at the university during the summer or sabbatical leave. Rogers emphasized that P R F supports several ways, in addition to the traditional one, of getting started in research. As an example, PRF accepts ~


Journal of Chemical Education



add-on proposals to its AC grants for cooperative summer research similar t o the NSF type. P R F also will consider proposals from faculty who are collaborating on a project. He emphasized the interest of P R F in exploring new funding programs for researchers in college chemistry departments. Neckers outlined the serious general problem that neither the chemical industry nor the federal government systematically suooorta undereraduate research: vet this activitv is ahsol u G y essential i i the education of &mists. ~e recokmended that we organize ~oliticallvto chanee the situation. and that in doing soundergaduate researchers must get the interested cooperation and support of colleagues in the research universities. The differing patterns of doing undergraduate research were manifest in the paper . . hv- Thomas Goodwin, which is included here, as well as in several others. For example, West noted that in universities a few undergraduate researchers may he supervised by faculty memhers, b u t that the majority are supervised hv maduate students or post-doctoral fellows, thereliy aiding the.iredurotion as well. ~ i l e pointed n out that in a medium-sized PhD program research by undergraduates is an important part o f t h e total researcheffort of the department. We conclude that the nation as a whole and undergraduate collenes in particular are facing a critical challenge. We do not see how quality chemical education in colleges can he sustained without a healthy research component. Especially imnortant is research done for the most Dart within the home department. In its absence, faculty loie their professional viability, facilities become outdated since there is little rationale for modem replacements, and the best students go to other fields or other institutions to pursue their educations. Since 1982, when the symposium was held, there has been one especially promising new development. NSF has announced the Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) nroeram under the administration of its research divisions. ~ h y l it e is too early to assess the impact of RUI, we believe that with adequate prouosal pressure i t could provide significant impet&for rese&ch at the undergraduate level; We hope that the symposium papers will he a useful resource for making undergraduate research a better understood and more vigorous part of chemical education.