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New program centralizes undergraduate research
September 8, 2010
This summer 72 St. Olaf students performed research on campus, examining everything from the presence of metals in storm-water runoff to ethical approaches to Middle English literature.
|Students from a variety of disciplines present their summer research findings at a poster session in Regents Hall in August.|
The wealth of research projects on campus during the summer is nothing new at St. Olaf, which is committed to providing undergraduate students with engaging and rewarding investigative experiences. What was new this year is that all of the summer research was coordinated through a centralized program known as Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI).
The goal of CURI is to bring all research and inquiry projects — whether they’re in science or math, dance or English — together under one program. With a campuswide initiative that is well-orchestrated and focused on providing as many students as possible with research opportunities, organizers hope to increase the visibility and amount of CURI activity that takes place on campus all year round. A centralized program for all research will also increase research opportunities across campus for students working on projects that don’t require a lab coat and test tubes.
“You don’t have to be a lab scientist to do undergraduate research,” says Professor of Statistics Julie Legler, the director of CURI. “Inquiry can take many forms, such as applying existing methods in novel settings.”
That’s the significance in the name of the new program, Legler says — it emphasizes that research and inquiry are both important endeavors, and it stresses the importance of collaboration. At St. Olaf students work closely with faculty members and other students on research projects and are very active participants in the work done. It provides an invaluable experience for students, which is why CURI aims to grow the number of research opportunities on campus even further.
“An undergraduate experience can be immeasurably enhanced by including the opportunity to work closely with a faculty member in a collaborative way on an open research question or other creative project,” says Associate Dean for Natural Sciences and Mathematics Matt Richey, who led the task force that created CURI. “There is so much more to the learning experience than what happens in the classroom.”
|Zephyr Mohr-Felsen '11 explains her summer research findings to a small crowd that includes Professor of Biology Anne Walter and Assistant Professor of Biology Steven Freedberg.|
Legler takes the reins of CURI after founding St. Olaf’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research (CIR), a program that pairs statistics students supervised by statistics faculty with other faculty members and students to collaborate on research. CIR students, for example, have worked with linguistics faculty on different research projects over the course of several years. Legler’s leadership of the CIR made her a natural candidate to get CURI off the ground.
Both Legler and Richey agree that the creation of CURI is a first step. The next step will be to coordinate how undergraduate research and inquiry are integrated into St. Olaf’s curriculum. As Legler says, “We are fortunate to have a great history of undergraduate research, especially in the sciences and mathematics. It’s a good time to make this valuable experience more accessible to students and faculty from all disciplines.”
Read more about CURI research projects: