Commonwealth College funds undergrad research
Commonwealth Honors College awarded $100,000 to undergraduate students this academic year, funding research and better preparing students for graduate school and the real world.
“I think it’s great that Commonwealth Honors College has been able to provide that much support to its students,” said Jennifer Rivero, a senior kinesiology major. “Combined with the smaller class sizes, the financial opportunities presented by Commonwealth Honors College certainly make it worth being a part of.” She received an honors Research Assistant Fellowship in the fall of her junior year and an Honors Research Grant in the fall of her senior year.
Over 100 honors students applied in spring 2008 and fall 2009 to receive funding in the 2009-2010 academic year. Commonwealth College was able to fund 75 percent of the Honors Research Grants and 85 percent of the Research Assistant Fellowships, supporting students in 29 academic areas, according to Meredith Lind, director of academic programs at Commonwealth College.
According to Lind, due to budget cuts and an increase in applicants, Commonwealth College eliminated the spring 2010 application round that allows students to apply for funding for the current semester. The college awards almost every accepted applicant $1,000 each, and without the ability to increase their budget, they couldn’t afford another round of applications.
The grant program, created to fund juniors’ and seniors’ thesis research, requires applicants to write a five-page grant proposal, a process Dr. Priscilla Clarkson, dean of Commonwealth College, believes is an important experience in itself even if the applicant isn’t awarded money.
“It trains students early on so they can hit the ground running when they get to grad school,” said Clarkson.
Rivero said the experience of being awarded research funding has been central to her planning for the future.
“If it wasn’t for Commonwealth Honors College and Dr. Clarkson, I would not be pursuing a research thesis right now, and I probably would not be moving on to graduate school in the fall,” she said. “Through the research grants and assistantship that I received, I was able to explore a different aspect of science while at the same time receiving a little bit of money. That bit allowed me to focus on my work and not have to get a part-time job.”
A stipulation which comes with being funded is that the student must submit an abstract to be reviewed and possibly chosen to be presented at the Undergraduate Research Conference, said Lind.
“In the larger world, the presentation aspect is very important,” said Lind.
Rivero, who presented her research at a poster session and is preparing to present at the Undergraduate Research Conference in April, said, “Organizing my ideas and progress in a concise manner allows me to take a step back from the tedious aspects of research and be able to see what I have really accomplished. Each time I present or practice for a presentation, I feel more comfortable telling people about what I have been doing.”
The application process and funding gives students the opportunity to learn grant writing, and how to conduct research and present their findings, which benefits a student academically, personally and professionally, said Lind.
The Research Assistant Fellowship also provides students with the opportunity to work closely with a faculty member, giving students the chance to be published as a co-author with the faculty they work with. The faculty is also then able to speak accurately to the student’s strengths in their recommendations, said Lind.
Shelby Kinney-Lang, a junior English and philosophy major, was awarded a $1,000 fellowship for the spring 2010 semester and is using the funds to support his role as a research assistant to professor Nicholas Bromell.
“ComCol is fostering an environment of academic excellence by encouraging undergraduates to participate in research with faculty members,” said Kinney-Lang.
The research Kinney-Lang is conducting includes reading selections from a variety of African-American writers, examining newspaper editorials throughout the last 150 years, understanding the general public discourse concerning democracy during each period in which each writer was writing, and from this, gathering the information most useful to professor Bromell, who is writing a book about African American contributions to the public understanding of democracy in the United States.
“I am elated to receive the opportunity to work alongside a professor in a field of study that I am very interested in pursuing. Without ComCol’s support, I would not have had the opportunity to do so,” said Kinney-Lang.
Clarkson and Lind both said they are encouraging more students to apply for grants and fellowships, even though they are not in a situation where they could fund more students for the current semester.
“We are at a nice homeostasis where we can fund those who apply,” said Clarkson. “If more students apply, we will work to get more reviewers and donors.”
Most Commonwealth College alumni donators first contribute to the research grant program because it was important to them and understand the impact it will have on students, said Lind.
“Alumni say their Capstone experience was the most rewarding of their education,” she said. “And they had a leg up on other students in their grad program.”
Anna Meiler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.