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Op-Ed: Encouraging a passion for research at Westfield State

On May 6, Westfield State University will hold its inaugural Celebration of Undergraduate Research and Creative Work symposium. This event is an indication of how far we have come as a university with regards to undergraduate research. A total of 146 students submitted 87 abstracts to be considered for inclusion in the symposium, representing 18 of our 24 academic departments, and collaborating with 30 different faculty members.

This event, which includes exceptional work from the sciences, humanities, and social sciences, is a cause for celebration for those of us who recognize the powerful impact that undergraduate research has on students by providing a real-life application of concepts that students might otherwise only read about. Undergraduate research is truly taking flight at Westfield State.

In the months and years ahead, we intend to provide the institutional support necessary to take undergraduate research at Westfield State to the next level.

In February of this year, I asked a presidential advisory committee to study the creation of a Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Work (CURCW) at Westfield State and allocated $200,000 for initial support. The purpose of the Center will be to provide increased institutional support for students and faculty who engage in undergraduate research. I see the Center as a valuable resource for our entire community as we strive to make Westfield State a place where undergraduate research is firmly integrated into our curriculum.

This faculty-driven initiative demonstrates how Westfield State supports student scholarship in a new and significant way. Indeed, our faculty are among the most enthusiastic advocates for expanding the role that research plays in the undergraduate experience.

Faculty members report that working with students on research initiatives is “the most rewarding” aspects of their jobs. It is captivating for them to see participants mature from students who are studying science to scientists.

The real-world experience and mentorship of faculty that are gained through participating in undergraduate research are incredibly valuable for our students as they make decisions about their educational path and set personal career goals.

At Westfield State, we want every student to know how participating in undergraduate research can benefit their academic and professional careers. Part of what makes undergraduate research such a powerful force is that it is inclusive of all students, regardless of their major or field of study. Undergraduate research helps students develop confidence, critical thinking, collaboration, and presentation skills.

In the coming months, we intend to move forward with a thoughtful plan to establish the Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Work. Once in place, with a dedicated staff and a home on campus, we expect the Center to expand existing programs and create new ones to better support and facilitate undergraduate research at Westfield State.

In December 2014, Professor of Geography and Regional Planning Dr. Carsten Braun delivered a presentation on campus identifying a gap between the strength of the undergraduate research at Westfield State and the weakness of the institutional support backing it. How can we change that, he asked. How can we transform Westfield State into a recognized hub of undergraduate research?

Through the diligent work of nearly 30 faculty members led by Dr. Carsten Braun, Dr. Robin E. White, Dr. Brian Jennings, and Dr. Diane Prusank, , Westfield State is now making that transformation.