Grant Bolsters Undergrad Research Outside the Lab

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

When most people picture undergraduate research, they imagine students in science labs, looking through microscopes or adjusting a laser. And that’s part of the problem.

“Support for undergraduate research, at least from outside sources, is very frequently easiest to obtain in the sciences,” said Carolyn J. Stefanco, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college at Agnes Scott College. “It’s just harder in general to get funding to support research in the humanities.”

But thanks to a $200,000 grant awarded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, undergraduate research in the humanities will have additional support at Agnes Scott.

The three-year grant will support faculty and curricular development with the goal of integrating undergraduate research across the curriculum. The grant will be used to develop new courses, add undergraduate research to existing programs, mentor students conducting research during the summer and use new technologies to aid students with research.

For instance, a portion of the grant will be used to purchase iPad 2s for students to check out for projects. One project involves students using the devices in a course on Spanish film to research and review films, as well as sharing clips with each other and the professor.

Faculty members will participate in workshops designed to help them integrate research into their courses and incorporate instructional technology into research projects in their disciplines.

From a curricular standpoint, the grant will support an examination of new and existing courses to find ways to bolster research in each discipline.

“We’re looking for ways to sit down and think about how these courses fit together so that the research aspect of the major will have greater coherence and students will be better poised to get the most out of their senior projects and other research projects,” said Katharine Kennedy, Charles A. Dana Professor of History and special assistant to the dean for undergraduate projects at Agnes Scott. “There will also be a heavy emphasis on faculty mentoring, something that is a definite strength at small colleges like Agnes Scott.”

This grant is only the most recent of several well-established programs at Agnes Scott devoted to undergraduate research. The college’s $3,000 Agnes Advantage Award can be used for an internship, to study abroad or for mentored research after a student completes her sophomore year. The Spring Annual Research Conference (SpARC) is held at Agnes Scott each April to provide students and faculty with an opportunity to present their work to the campus community. As an interdisciplinary conference, SpARC fosters essential connections across academic disciplines and encourages an ongoing dialogue between the liberal arts and sciences.

“This grant builds on our already great success with undergraduate research,” Stefanco said. “It will help us embed a stronger focus on the research process in the humanities and help students develop an identity as scholars. It’s a life transforming experience for students.”

Agnes Scott College educates women to think deeply, live honorably and engage the intellectual and social challenges of their times. Students are drawn to Agnes Scott by its excellent academic reputation, exceptional faculty and metropolitan Atlanta location—offering myriad social, cultural and experiential learning opportunities. This highly selective liberal arts college is known for its diverse and dynamic intellectual community. Through SUMMIT, it provides every student, regardless of major, with an individualized course of study and co-curricular experiences that develop leadership abilities and understanding of complex global dynamics.