Malaspina coordinates international study on undergraduate research

March 19, 2007 - 5:00pm

Over the next two years, Malaspina University-College will coordinate an international study on the impact of undergraduate research.

It’s part of a prestigious leadership program organized by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning (CASTL), an independent policy and research centre based in Stanford, California which encourages best practices in teaching and learning.

“CASTL is examining 12 themes related to the scholarship of teaching and learning, including undergraduate research,” explained Nancy Randall, head of Malaspina’s Teaching and Learning Centre. “CASTL invited post-secondary institutions from around the world to participate, and 90 institutions from seven countries were selected as leadership sites, including Malaspina.We've been asked to coordinate a group of international institutions and centres studying undergraduate research .It's quite an honour.”

The group includes the University of Alberta, University of Waterloo, Notre Dame University, University of Maryland-Baltimore County, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Central Florida, the Centre for Excellence at the University of Gloucestershire, United Kingdom, and the American Council for Undergraduate Research, which has been involved with undergraduate research development for 27 years.

Faculty will benefit from Malaspina’s involvement in study “because we'll have opportunities to share our work and learning with national and international colleagues, and learn from other undergraduate research leadership sites,” Randall said.

Students at Malaspina and around the world will also benefit.  “We already know that early involvement in research helps students cope with complexity in a challenging world, and enables them to grapple with significant disciplinary questions,”  she said. “The study on the impact of undergraduate research will lead to new opportunities and make learning outcomes more meaningful.”

Undergraduate students at Malaspina already lead or co-lead successful disciplinary or interdisciplinary research. “In fact, the type and amount of undergraduate research taking place at Malaspina is really quite remarkable,” Randall said. “Over the last few years, students in Biology, Chemistry and Nursing have secured 11 national awards totaling over $100,000 for both undergraduate and graduate research.”

Students in Malaspina's Psychology department also conduct innovative studies in the Fear and Anxiety lab, Sleep and Neuroscience Lab, Resilience Lab, Behavioural Medicine Lab, Community Lab, Immunocycto Chemistry Lab, and an Electrophysiology Lab.  “They’re learning research skills that others might not encounter until graduate school,” Randall said.

Fourth-year Biology students at Malaspina advance their training in field and laboratory research skills through one-year mandatory undergraduate research projects. Students interact with their peers and with scientists affiliated with various local agencies, organizations, or institutions, in addition to Malaspina faculties. Research projects generally address topics of interest to people in the community, and cover a broad range of scientific interest, including molecular biology, cell biology, ecology, parasitology, microbiology and botany.

Malaspina’s Chemistry department also encourages undergraduate research, especially in Environmental Chemistry through the multi-million dollar Applied Environmental Research Lab (AERL).

Student research is also highlighted in the new Faculty of Management Centre, which opened earlier this year. Tourism and Recreation Management undergraduate students, for example, engage in on-going research individually or through the Recreation and Tourism Research Institute or the community-university-college research alliance between Malaspina and the District of Ucluelet. The latter partnership resulted a prestigious United Nations award earlier this year.

Randall said Malaspina began its association with The Carnegie Foundation five years ago. From 2003- 2006, Malaspina provided leadership, with the University of Portland, for a cluster of international institutions in a campus leadership program. In 2005, Malaspina co-hosted the second annual conference of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) with the University of British Columbia, and The Carnegie Foundation.

Last May, Malaspina hosted an international conference on Teaching and Learning at the Nanaimo campus, and Richard Gale, senior scholar with The Carnegie Foundation,  “was very impressed with the calibre of undergraduate research taking place here,”  said Randall.

Malaspina and other participating institutions in the CASTL undergraduate research study will submit a final report by 2009.

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