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Editor’s note: Commentary provides university faculty and staff an opportunity to express their opinions in The Miami University Report. Contributions should be no longer than 500-600 words in length and should be directed to Bill Houk (physics), Published commentaries also will be posted online at

Research experiences actively engage the learner
Michael W. Crowder
Volwiler Research Professor, chemistry and biochemistry

I am writing in response to Jim Brock’s commentary in a recent Miami Report. The main argument of Dr. Brock’s story is that the only way to teach undergraduates at Miami is to lecture in undergraduate courses.

Professor Brock’s argument contradicts ALL current education studies that demonstrate that the BEST way to teach undergraduates (or anyone for that matter) is to actively engage the learner. In the sciences and in many other disciplines, this means that we must provide interesting, significant research experiences, and most research-active faculty members in the sciences at Miami have multiple undergraduate researchers working in their labs. Research-active faculty members directly work with the students in the lab, develop their writing skills and lab skills, meet with them to discuss problems with research, and train them to be critical thinkers. Undergraduate students must be trained in state-of-the-art instrumentation and lab techniques to help them succeed in graduate school or industry.

Mentoring undergraduate and graduate students requires a lot more time than 50 minutes, three times a week in a standard lecture setting. In the sciences, the cost of providing this valuable research experience for students is extremely high in both faculty time and money. This is why we must invest time writing grant proposals to provide students unique research opportunities. Many undergraduate students have found these research experiences invaluable and gone on to first-rate graduate programs at M.I.T., UC-Davis, Northwestern, Harvard, and Ohio State in the last few years. There are many small liberal arts schools at which students can attend and sit in lectures about recent scholarship from others. There are far fewer universities at which undergraduate students can attend and sit in lectures about recent scholarship from their own studies. Miami University is a university that offers its students the latter experience.

The Volwiler professorship does not provide a salary supplement like many other professorships do. The Volwiler professorship provides funds to improve the research environment in the awardee’s lab. Funds from the Volwiler professorship so far have been used to host the first annual Talawanda-Miami science week, develop a new research project in the lab, and provide some travel funds for me and my students to present research at meetings. The new research project has attracted three new undergraduate researchers into the lab, and these students are working very hard and will be co-authors on manuscripts before they graduate from Miami. I contend that this is exactly the kind of education that Miami prides itself on and must continue to offer its students.

Date Published: 01/17/2008
Volume: 27   Number: 13


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