Knox has two unique programs which provide robust institutional support for multi-term research projects.
One particularly unique program is our Ford Fellowship program. The program is designed to identify junior-year students interested in pursuing an academic career and prepare these students for graduate study. The program spans 9 months, during which students create and carry out an original research project, practice grant-writing and research budgeting, and participate in informational seminars on graduate school and academia as a profession. The award includes funding for summer between junior and senior year, when the lion’s share of research and/or writing is to take place; however, students are expected to begin work in January already. While they primarily work with a faculty advisor on the research project, they have our Director of Undergraduate Research as a sounding board for proposals and budgets. Additionally, four faculty members are assigned to an advisory committee to serve these students. As a member of this advisory committee representing the Humanities, I aided in selecting candidates (10-12 per year of roughly 30-40 applicants), commented on applications and participated in the seminar series focused on graduate school and life in academia. The result is a real, campus-wide academic support for these students. Such research projects take lots of time, focus, energy and faculty guidance; however, we are able to divide this much needed support across many individuals and offices on campus.
Our Honors program at Knox — a year-long independent research project — is designed more like an MA or PhD project. First, student projects are vetted by a central faculty committee. Those proposals which are accepted are guided by three faculty, and have built into them a series of check-ins and progress reports. Knox even allocates a budget to professors to have meetings over lunch with the student to discuss progress at various stages. Students are provided additional library support, including study carrels and more generous lending periods. The Dean’s office sets aside funding for copying and printing costs for Honors students, ensuring economic boundaries are eliminated. Last, but not least, our Director of Undergraduate Research tracks each student and serves as an additional guide. Regular check-in emails and progress reports are forwarded to this Director as well. The Director may also suggest additional funding resources for research or travel for students. Students are also encouraged to use the writing resources offered by our Center for Teaching and Learning to aid in forming their ideas and improving their academic prose. For the two honors projects I have been involved in so far, students actively use all committee members. They receive input and coaching on their proposals, outlines and chapters, leading up to a final project which typically tops 60-80 pages (though one just defended weighed in at over 200 pages). There is also a formal defense, which includes a budget for an outside reviewer to be present for the thesis defense, providing the student with more feedback they must incorporate before turning in a final, revised version in order to be awarded Honors.
As I have mentioned in a previous post, funding and infrastructure is already present for undergraduate research, but this is often targeted at students in the sciences. Encouraging students in the Humanities to engage with research projects, and providing them with this manner of support, is still lacking. Such structured opportunities take this kind of undergraduate research project from an idealistic proposal to reality.
Could you foresee your institution creating such committees and programs? How could the intensive workload of mentoring such projects across multiple faculty and offices be carried out at your institution?