"Real Life Solutions to Real Life Problems:" Collaborating with a Non-Profit Foundation to Engage Honors Students in Applied Research
Colleges and universities have long emphasized undergraduate research experiences as valuable activities for students. The National Science Foundation (NSF) echoed this focus in 2003, recommending that all students get involved in undergraduate research as early as possible in their college careers (NSF). Collegiate honors programs in particular have embraced the role of student research as an integral experience for high-ability students, leading the way in developing the thesis-based model of undergraduate research that is increasingly common in institutions of higher learning. However, one difficulty in getting honors students involved in research, particularly early in their years at college, is that they misunderstand what research entails or see it only as the province of laboratory-based science majors. Even in social science programs such as psychology or sociology or in applied programs such as nursing or communication studies, where empirical research is central to the discipline, students may not understand the value of research in these contexts or may think that they do not have the skills or ideas to participate in the research process. When asked to define "research," many students think only of laboratories, test tubes, and technical equipment, or they think of the ubiquitous research papers that they have already encountered in their classes and that they often see as summarizing the ideas of other people rather than contributing new knowledge. Since the spring of 2012, the Minnesota State University, Mankato Honors Program has partnered with the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) to implement two separate approaches to developing honors students' research skills and broadening their understanding of the research process. We incorporated applied research opportunities for honors students in two different settings: a course on research methods and an independent study research experience. Each approach was successful at building students' confidence in their research skills, giving them experience with applied research practices, and broadening their understanding of what constitutes research. Each approach had various pros and cons that might be useful to other programs with plans to develop similar opportunities, and I include recommendations for how to form connections with community groups. The reflections completed by students who participated in these opportunities provide important perspectives that supplement my own as the instructor and faculty mentor for these experiences. Finally, in Appendix A I provide a letter from the president of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation presenting his perception of their partnership with our Honors program.
Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council
Stark, E. (2013). "Real Life Solutions to Real Life Problems:" Collaborating with a Non-Profit Foundation to Engage Honors Students in Applied Research. Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, 14(2), 129-145.
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