Undergraduate Research Newsletter of the URC, Vol. 1, No. 1

Integration of Research and Undergraduate Education

Dorothy I. Mitstifer

The purpose of this paper is to provide a foundation and perspective for the new initiative, Undergraduate Research Community (URC) for the Human Sciences. It is the perception of this author that the integration of research and education represents a true frontier in post-secondary education. Four important resources give credibility to the reasoning: The Boyer Commission report, "Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America's Research Universities" (1998); The Kellogg Commission Report, "Renewing the Commitment: Learning, Discovery, and Engagement in a New Age and Different World" (2000); James Duderstadt's, A University for the 21st Century (2000); and the Proceedings of the 1999 Jerome B. Wiesner Policy Symposium (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, March 29-30, 1999), New Integrations of Research, Scholarship, and Undergraduate Education (2000).

The mission of the URC is a dynamic and pervasive culture of the human sciences for developing the next generation of scholars. Assumed in this mission, but not stated, is the notion that these scholars will be scholar leaders. Through undergraduate student development, these scholar leaders will be prepared for graduate education, the workplace, and responsible citizenship. By developing lifelong inquiry methods, they will prepare for taking their place in leadership of the human sciences.

Student Learning

Traditional education sometimes implies that learning is a dispassionate memorization of facts; one of the benefits of active learning, inquiry-based education, and research projects is that a passion for self-directed learning is engendered in the process. The Kellogg Commission's (2000) focus on "learning, discovery, and engagement" recommends that passive modes of instruction be replaced with "a more active process in which students and faculty take responsibility for their own intellectual growth, drawing from the richness and diversity available on any major university campus. And by 'students,' we mean learners throughout their lifetimes. . . . We understand discovery to be research, scholarship, and creative activity that reveal new knowledge, integrate it into existing bodies of disciplinary work, cross-pollinate disciplines, and possibly create something entirely new" (p. 21). Discovery reorders thought and sustains curiosity to follow where inquiry leads. Hands-on learning provides the grounding for lifelong inquiry; it provides opportunity for comprehending systems, patterns, and interconnections. Research involvement helps students deal with how to explore open-ended questions and deal with uncertainty, how to formulate questions, and how to find explanations or answers.

Barriers to student involvement in active learning and research often have to do with faculty perception of their own roles as educators and scholars. Educator skills for active learning and mentoring skills for undergraduate research, then, are critical issues. A limited study of "Undergraduate Research Offerings in the Participating Institutions of the URC" (2001) indicated that selected students have had opportunities for undergraduate research but a pervasive philosophy has yet to be developed; the extent of active learning or inquiry-based education methods was not determined.

The Boyer Commission states that

The ecology of the university depends on a deep and abiding understanding that inquiry, investigation, and discovery are the heart of the enterprise, whether in funded research projects or in undergraduate classrooms or graduate apprenticeships. Everyone at a university should be a discoverer, a learner. (1998, p. 7)

The perspective of the Boyer Commission Report holds that the university mission should foster a campus environment that nurtures exploration and creativity among all students. If URC is to develop a "dynamic and pervasive culture," this author believes that the URC project will need to determine the extent of active learning so that the mission can be truly accomplished through basic changes in teaching and learning.

Institutional Issues

The undergraduate curriculum and the faculty reward structures are in most part products of the traditional view education (Killeen & Katterman, 2000). Thus, the "powers" that determine the curriculum and the reward structures will need to be engaged in change. Although it would be easier to accomplish with selected faculty and courses, the danger of providing inequitable educational opportunities must be considered. It is likely that one-size does not fit all. Therefore, consideration needs to be given to matching student needs and inclinations to the approach to student involvement in their own learning that is most effective in individual cases. Equality of opportunity, not a standard model, is the operative notion. Boyer, and Dewey before him, have beaten the drums for inquiry-based education, but the academy has resisted. Duderstadt (2000) reviewed the various options and concluded that the "goal of liberal learning remains the best approach to prepare students for a lifetime of learning and a world of change" (p. 78). He believes that the "digital generation" requires a change from the traditional undergraduate education model.

They [the digital generation] learn by experimentation and participation, not by listening or reading passively. They take no one's word for anything. Rather they embrace interactivity, the right to shape and participate in their learning. They are comfortable with the uncertainty that characterizes their change-driven world. (p. 82)

He goes on to say that they desire a learning community that fosters interactive, collaborative learning. This way of learning is more attuned to creating knowledge instead of absorbing it. The new technologies, although not yet satisfying to all, will gain in quality and ease of access and offer more flexible roles for students and faculty and opportunities for collaboration across disciplines and distances.

The new knowledge media needs to be utilized to create "communities of practice" that are formed through individual interests in community (broadly defined) and/or professional issues. Research projects and "service learning" are but two means of forming communities of practice. To facilitate these approaches, new ways must be devised for selecting, designing, and controlling the learning environment on the part of learners. It seems clear that universities will need to shift away from being faculty-centered to learner-centered institutions.

Duderstadt (2000) projects a future for the higher education enterprise in forming loosely federated systems of colleges and universities serving multiple roles: the traditional one, distributed/open learning environments, and a global knowledge and learning industry. He also predicts that it is uncertain who or what will drive change and is skeptical that it will happen from within. This author notes that the URC is an example of such a vision, and it is noteworthy that this enterprise has begun from within. To accomplish a transformation, the URC faces several issues:

  • The habits of thought and organization that limit response to change
  • Faculty culture
  • External groups with similar interests
  • The university's traditional lack of motivation to change
  • The question of leadership
  • Financial structure

Steps in the transformation process, adapted from Duderstadt's (2000) notion of the process of transforming an organization, have implications for the URC planning and development:

  • Secure commitment at the top - seek support from senior leadership.
  • Seek community involvement - recruit all groups within the community.
  • Ignite the sparks of transformation - recruit individuals who understand transformation and have credibility.
  • Control and focus the transformation agenda - initiate decisive action to streamline the processes, procedures, and organizational structures.
  • Stay the course - celebrate small successes and continue to discuss the issues compelling change to build confidence in long-term support.

Evaluation is Crucial

Although the anecdotal evidence supports increased research opportunities for undergraduates, there is lack of supporting data to show the benefit/cost ratio (Killeen& Katterman, 2000). Research into ways of incorporating research into the undergraduate curriculum must be considered an important intellectual activity. Evaluation, construed as learning and improving policies and procedures rather than judging, is critical to successful change and credibility of the URC. Ascertaining the baselines of research opportunities for undergraduates in the human sciences will help to develop the marker against which future progress can be charted. Both formative and summative evaluation processes will provide supporting data for determining benefits and direction for continued planning and development of the URC.


We have embarked on a significant journey to create the Undergraduate Research Community; the timing must have been right because it has been only a year since this was a brainchild of Dean Julia Miller of Michigan State University. It must have been timely, too, because it was supported by an enthusiastic group of administrators and their units. The challenges are daunting, but the forces moving us to the next frontier seem to have a momentum unprecedented in academia. Two commission reports, a policy symposium, a thoughtful book--all focused on the topics of undergraduate education and research--have provided momentum for change. Other factors creating incentive for change are technology, the digital generation, the presence of for-profit educational enterprises, the new-found acceptability of partnerships, the popularity of the word "integration" (even if there is no agreement on what it means), the search for more effective ways to implement reflection and strategic thinking, the credibility of the body of work and the thinking of Ernest Boyer, among others.

By far the most troublesome challenges, in this author's view, are the issues of changing the culture of undergraduate education and faculty role. Because these issues belong to university philosophy and governance, the URC will have to determine how to create an environment sufficient for a meaningful impact on undergraduate research in the human sciences. Although the Kellogg Commission provides strong recommendations for change (2000, p. 22), it takes campus-wide and inter-institutional collaboration to implement them. The URC is an inter-institutional collaboration but the rest of change rests properly with each unit and the larger campus.

The notion of "sticky communities" (ASAEF, 2000) has relevance for the URC. The business of community is the building of networks that bring together and support their members. Community is strategy; it is the manner of creating the social glue. Communities that command engagement perform five valuable functions:

  • The linking business - the engine is exchange; the strength is utilization of weak ties as well as strong ones; and the energy of the edge is a source of change.
  • The identity business - symbols create a unity under its umbrella; history and theory behave like stories to create a culture for organizing and transforming it; and a sense of "place" for sharing and reinforcing the culture.
  • The learning business - the process for recruiting and socializing members, training and retraining, and providing news and information.
  • The voice business - the amplification of like-minded voices in policy, advocacy, and public relations.
  • The seal of approval business - the warrants or clues about what to expect and what to pay attention to and the social machinery to place and validate outsiders and utilize them as sources of excitement and innovation.

Initial engagement has been achieved; now the question arises whether a sticky community can arise and be maintained. Perhaps the most important question is "Can the URC infuse education with the joy of discovery and an awareness of its connections to exploration through directed inquiry, careful observation, and analytic thinking for undergraduate students at all levels?"


ASAEF (2000). Community is strategy: Creating the "stickiness" of community. Washington, DC: American Society of Association Executives Foundation.

Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University. (1998). Reinventing undergraduate education: A blueprint for America's research universities. http://notes.cc.sunysb.edu/Pres/boyer.nsf/webform/images/$File/boyer.txt.

Duderstadt, J. J. (2000). A university for the 21st century. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.

Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Institutions. (2000). Renewing the covenant: Learning, discovery, and engagement in a new age and different world. Washington, DC: NASULGC.

Killeen, T. L., & Katterman, L. C. (Eds.). (2000). New integrations of research, scholarship, and undergraduate education, Proceedings of the 1999 Jerome B. Wiesner Policy Symposium. Ann Arbor, MI: Office of the Vice President of Research, University of Michigan.

Undergraduate Research Community of the Human Sciences. (2001). Undergraduate research offerings in the participating institutions of the URC. East Lansing, MI Kappa Omicron Nu.

About the author: Dr. Mitstifer is Executive director of Kappa Omicron Nu, East Lansing, MI.


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