Faculty Mentors and Undergraduate Student Research

Posted on: March 12th, 2014 by jpeliss

Welcome back from spring break.  The days are getting longer—even if the promise of spring hasn’t quite yet arrived!  In recent years one of the things I truly enjoy about the second half of the spring semester is the opportunity to learn more about the results of the research projects in which so many of our students are engaged, undergraduates and graduate students alike.  These student and student-faculty research projects will be featured this year on the Saturday of Loyola’s Weekend of Excellence celebration.  (You’ll hear more about the Weekend of Excellence over the next month.)

One student group in which I have a vested interest are the undergraduate Provost Fellows, many of whom I am pleased to know will present their research at this year’s Undergraduate Research Symposium during the Weekend of Excellence.  For those of you who may not know, the Provost Fellowship is awarded annually to undergraduates who plan to conduct a research project under the mentorship of a faculty member during either the summer or throughout the academic year.  In recent years, over 60 undergrads have won the Provost’s Fellowship, so earlier this year it gave me real delight to have the opportunity to congratulate the students in person, at a reception held in their honor.  The reception was also the occasion to greet faculty mentors who were also recognized at the event, and to extend to them my very sincere thanks for their willingness to be of service to students in this manner.

An overarching principal that informs our understanding of the Provost Fellowship experience is that the working relationship between the Provost Fellow and his or her faculty mentor is at the heart of the experience. We know that student research that is guided by a faculty mentor—either as an individual project or as a member of research team—enhances classroom learning.  Some higher education scholars have characterized experiences such as student research as part of the “deep learning,” learning that prepares students motivated to meet the challenges of the 21st century and who wish to make meaningful contributions to their communities, our nation, and the world.   If the Provost Fellowship program and the student research it supports contribute to this deeper learning, then we will have helped to prepare our students for these 21st century challenges.

I believe that everyone benefits from a faculty mentor’s investment of time in a student’s research: the student, the faculty mentor, and the University, as we continue our efforts to create the premier undergraduate experience for students in Chicago.  Through the sharing of their expertise and wisdom, faculty mentors assist in providing an education that empowers and transforms students.  There is a ‘pay it forward’ quality to the act of mentoring, which I hope that all our Provost Fellows will recall at some future point when they are presented with an opportunity to mentor a young man or woman who is eager to face whatever challenges the future holds for them.

John Pelissero

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