Over the past several years, undergraduate research and creative activity have seen great expansion at Eastern Connecticut State University. More than ever before, students in all majors have opportunities for experiential learning — whether conducted independently or with faculty mentors, on campus or afar, with stipends or for academic credit.
“With fellowships, project grants and connections to conferences around the world, as well as extensive laboratory space and other activities on campus, Eastern is developing into a comprehensive school for undergraduate research,” said Carlos Escoto, coordinator of the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Council Advisory Board.
Eastern recognizes that undergraduate research and creative activity are best practices that yield desirable learning outcomes. According to a study by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), undergraduate research has been shown to impact student retention and develop mentor relationships with faculty, as well as support critical thinking and problem solving. Long-term scholarly activity outside of the classroom has also been tied to graduate school acceptance.
“Research and creative activities take classroom experience and apply it to tangible, practical work,” said Escoto. “Research is real-world experience that develops professional skills and prepares students for the workforce.”
The Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) defines undergraduate research as “an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline.” Through numerous presentations and publications every year, Eastern students are contributing to their respective fields.
There are research and creative activity opportunities for students in all majors at Eastern. “Research varies by discipline, and it’s not all test tubes and science related,” said Escoto. Performing arts students create costumes for theatrical productions; history majors investigate archives and historical sites; communication majors make documentaries; English students perform literary analyses; and education majors study the impact of toys on child development through the acclaimed TIMPANI study (Toys that Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination).
Simply performing research is not the end goal. “The presentation of the research is also important,” said Escoto, speaking to the communication, public speaking and organizational skills needed to articulate research during a presentation. To promote the presentation component of research, Eastern has increased its involvement in regional and national conferences and exhibitions.
This past November, 17 Eastern students presented at the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC) Northeast Regional Conference at Keene State College in New Hampshire. 14 students have been accepted to present at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), occurring this April in Washington State. NCUR is the largest conference of its kind in the country — there were 3,700 submissions nationwide this year. Posters on the Hill, a very competitive conference in Washington D.C., will also happen this April, with students learning of their acceptance later in February.
“The increase in students submitting to these three prestigious conferences, and many others, and their acceptance into them, is proof that undergraduate research is gaining traction at Eastern,” said Escoto. Last year, Psychology Major Eric Cerino presented at Posters on the Hill, which only has a 10 percent acceptance rate. “Eastern has a great track record with Posters on the Hill,” added Escoto. “We are right up there with Yale for top participation in Connecticut.”
Traditionally, undergraduate research and creative activities are pursued by juniors and seniors. “Our goal is to get students involved at the ground level,” said Escoto. “We want to inspire all students to pursue research — underclassmen and upperclassmen alike.”
To facilitate this, and to foster an academic culture that encourages research, Eastern is starting an Undergraduate Research Club to help students engage in research and creative activities as early as possible. And for the first time, this semester marks the launch of the CREATE conference (Celebrating Research Excellence and Artistic Talent at Eastern). Set for April 17–18, CREATE will provide an on-campus venue for all students to present their research and creative work — through oral and poster presentations and panel discussions, as well as art, photography and documentary exhibitions.
Students also go abroad or receive funding to pursue research. Biology major Dominique DuBois went to La Paz, Mexico this past November for the 38th Annual Meeting of the International Water Bird Society. History major Sonya Beetham received a project grant to support her research titled “Pablo Picasso in Time and Place.” Mathematics major Richard Magner, under the mentorship of Professor Mizan Khan, completed a summer fellowship dealing with concepts in number theory. Through this research, Magner also published in the academic journal “Integers.” This coming March, English majors Alexandra Rogan and Renee Drouin will travel to Albuquerque, NM, to present their research at the 2015 Sigma Tau Delta Convention. And history major Melissa Zablonski will present her research on Revolutionary War pensions for widows at Harvard University this semester.
“Eastern’s funding for grants and travel, and our institutional focus on undergraduate research, is unique among liberal arts colleges and schools of our size,” said Escoto. “Students looking for a college should consider Eastern for its research and scholarly opportunities.”