Most people will agree that when it comes to an Oreo, the middle filling is what makes the cookie special. When it comes to college, however, the two ends of the experience—our rituals of welcome and the year-end celebrations—are the best part for me. I find them delectable!
This past week we held one of the year-end celebrations at VCSU, the Student Opportunities for Academic Research (SOAR) Celebration Banquet. SOAR is a research program designed to encourage faculty-mentored research, artistry, and creativity projects for undergraduates. The accomplishments of our student-faculty teams through this program are strong evidence of the way we live out our mission—preparing students “to succeed as educators, leaders, and engaged citizens in an increasingly complex and diverse society.”
SOAR is clearly an excellent example of what the Association of American Colleges and Universities refers to as high-impact educational experiences. Identified in the work of student-engagement scholar George Kuh, high-impact educational practices are simply well-documented college experiences which facilitate student success. From research we know that the two most powerful influences on college student success are students’ relationships with their faculty and with their peers. SOAR maximizes this variable in significant ways.
Examples of how faculty members impact student learning through SOAR include the following:
- From their time with faculty mentors, student mentees come to understand on a very personal level that they matter to someone important, someone who believes in their ability to engage in significant work. This will not only keep them in college, it may inspire them to reach even further to pursue a terminal degree. Research also indicates that faculty investment in them may persuade these students to pursue research-related careers.
- A student mentee spends a fair amount of time with their professor and as a result is able to observe firsthand how that person thinks and how he/she deals with the inevitable challenges that crop up in the course of exploration. This sense of adaptability, creativity, and problem-solving facilitates students’ personal growth and competence as they thrive in college and beyond.
- Student mentees receive more immediate and frequent feedback than their peers. Faculty mentors have helped them to better understand themselves in relation to others and the world, as well as to acquire the intellectual tools and ethical grounding to act with confidence for the betterment of the human condition.
VCSU students have many choices and opportunities. Deciding to participate in the competitive SOAR program will produce payoffs the students cannot yet imagine. From the student vantage point, there are several examples of how the SOAR program has influenced them:
VCSU SOAR Projects
- Student participation in SOAR has demonstrated that each student scholar has devoted considerable time and effort to a very purposeful task. It has required daily decisions that have deepened their investment in the research and/or creative process and strengthened their connection to their faculty mentor, as well as their commitment to their academic program.
- Participating in SOAR has placed these students in the company of faculty mentors and peers who share intellectual interests and who are committed to ensuring their personal and professional growth and success. Although many benefits can be reaped from other student activities, the one distinguishing aspect of the SOAR program is that it’s a fast-paced accelerator to success.
- Students who competed for a place in the SOAR program have been provided with an opportunity to connect learning to the world beyond campus. In the future, many of them may look back and see growth in their self-confidence, self-direction, and self-knowledge, and recognize the program’s contributions to their effective interaction with supervisors, critical and creative thinking, written and oral communication, information literacy, problem-solving, and ethical judgment.
- This one decision—and the work that went with it—that these VCSU students made will be a distinguishing feature of their student experience and provide them with substantial benefits (economic, civic, and personal) in their future. I suspect several of them may even look back and call this one decision life-changing.
- Monika Brown (Dina Zavala-Petherbridge, M.A.), “Entransed: The Making of a Transnational Woman”
- Tarah Cleveland (Razib Iqbal, Ph.D.), “Investigating a New Approach to Web Visitor Engagement Measurement”
- Niklas Ernst (Luis da Vinha, Ph.D.), “The Unfinished Presidencies: Why Incumbent Presidents Lose Their Reelection Campaigns”
- Cassy Gilbertson and Kaylee Johnson (Karri Dieken, M.F.A.),“3D Printing K-12 Project Curriculum”
- Maxwell Kollar (Hilde van Gjissel, Ph.D.), “Creating a Bacterial Mercury Sensor Using Synthetic Biology”
- Logen Olesen (Susan Kilgore, Ph.D.), “The Use of Sand Fraction Lithology Analysis to Differentiate Sediment Layers at an Archaeological Site in Grand Portage, Minnesota”
- Eric Schauer (Gary Ketterling, Ph.D.), “Engineering an Autonomous Ecosystem for Use in Science Classrooms”
- Justin Tangen (Andre DeLorme, Ph.D.), “Using Side-Scanning Sonar to Detect Mussel Beds in North Dakota Rivers”
Special thanks to Margaret Dahlberg, Ph.D, vice president for academic affairs; David DeMuth, Ph.D., director of undergraduate research and artistry; Steven King, D.A., dean of curriculum and assessment; the SOAR advisory board; and especially to the faculty and student research teams for making this program a successful aspect of the VCSU experience. This program is yet another example of why it is a great day to be a Viking!