When hearing the term “undergraduate research,” many typically think of work done in the hard sciences; but Keene State College professors in the Arts & Humanities view undergraduate research in their disciplines as a key part in the success of their students.
Eight KSC professors in the Arts & Humanities traveled to Delaware earlier this month to take part in Creative Inquiry and Undergraduate Research in the Arts & Humanities Institute put on by The Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR).
“Research can look like a lot of different things. It doesn’t have to happen just in a lab literally with test tubes,” Communications Professor Jamie Landau said.
Landau, along with Chitra Akkor, Nick Germana, Heather Gillian, Sandra Howard, Bob Kostick, Mark Long and Jonathan Schwartz, spent Nov. 2 through Nov. 4 viewing presentations from education experts, taking part in a number of meetings, and working with each other to create a report to relay to the Dean of Arts & Humanities on how to improve undergraduate research at KSC.
According to History Professor Nicholas Germana, one idea set forth was the creation of more avenues for ITW and IQL students to present their work. He said it would be great if ITW students in particular had opportunities other than the yearly Academic Excellence Conference to showcase their undergraduate research. He said a literary magazine or a space on campus where two or three times a year exhibitions are held are possible options being explored.
Germana said the group of professors plans to meet with the Dean of Arts & Humanities Andrew Harris at the end of finals week to discuss what they learned from the conference and what ideas they have for moving forward.
Harris, who became the Dean of Arts & Humanities just four months ago, said when he came for his interview last April, he went to the Emerging Art Exhibit and a graphic design and portfolio show. “I saw in particular graphic design portfolios and ceramic work that was outstanding and was the product of not just the course in which the students had produced that work, but it was the product of the years of mentoring and personal growth that the students had in those disciplines; and that’s one of the reasons I came here because I think that students here are doing outstanding work and it needs to be recognized,” Harris said.
Germana said, “I don’t think that there was anything that I went to [at the conference] that I didn’t take something away from, that I didn’t find relevant to what we’re trying to do at Keene State [College].”
Landau said that the conference was a positive experience for reasons other than the purely academic. “I think it’s important that faculty get outside of their bubble, meaning their department. I love how the Media Arts Center does that for some of us because our offices are mixed next to each other. So like the department chair for Film is right next to me and then the department chair for Graphic and Design and Art is right there, so I’d already started to get to know faculty in other departments through just the interdisciplinary structure of the building, but I think this conference was another space by which we were interacting among departments, and that was great for professional collaboration and for like sort of collegial camaraderie and personal interactions,” she said.
Harris, who has been serving as a counselor in the Arts & Humanities division of the Council of Undergraduate Research since 2002, said, “When students own the process of inquiry within their discipline, they become practitioners in the discipline. They are able to apply their knowledge and skills and capacities that they gained in their courses to a problem within their discipline that they themselves have generated. This is one of the most transformative experiences possible in undergraduate education, and I would say it’s important in every discipline.”
Germana said undergraduate research often gives students a purpose. He said it allows students to think about their work as something other than just a task completed for a grade, but instead “something that they can share with people and say, ‘Look I’m part of this larger conversation.’” He said undergraduate research not only energizes students but faculty as well. He said it dramatically enriches the education process when both faculty and students really connect with the work that they’re doing.
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