Council on Undergraduate Research project to enhance undergraduate research curricula

Radford University was recently selected to participate in the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) Transformations Project that will examine and enhance the university’s undergraduate research-based opportunities over the next four years.

Radford is among 12 institutions from across the United States to be selected to participate in the CUR project, which is being funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). According to the CUR website, the Transformations Project “is intended to address an urgent need in the undergraduate science community to connect faculty research activities to the curriculum in ways that will lead to a research-rich curriculum for students.”

Beginning this fall, CUR will provide Radford University’s physics and biology departments two consultants who will conduct site-visits to gather information and to help the departments create an action plan for transforming their curricula. The consultants are faculty from other institutions who have led impactful curricular transformations centered on course-embedded research. Their estimated value is $80,000 a year. Each department will also receive $2,000 each year to support implementation of their action plans. Consultation and the annual funding will continue through the end of 2021.

“We are honored to be selected to participate in the Council on Undergraduate Research Transformations Project,” said Orion Rogers, dean of the Artis College of Science and Technology. “We are confident that with the assistance of the CUR consultants and our talented and dedicated faculty and students, we will take Radford University’s research opportunities to the next level.”

At Radford University, the Transformations Project is being headed by Rogers; Jeanne Mekolichick, assistant provost for academic programs; Tara Phelps-Durr, associate professor of biology; and Brett Taylor, chair of the physics department and physics professor, in addition to other biology and physics faculty. The project application process began in early 2017. Initially, 88 institutions submitted pre-proposals, 30 were invited to submit full proposals, 16 institutions were selected for phone interviews and 12 were awarded.

“We are excited to yet again be awarded an exciting research-based opportunity that will enhance the teaching capabilities of our faculty and the learning experiences of our students,” Phelps-Durr said. “At Radford University, our overall goal is to provide our students with curriculum that inspires them. By embedding research in curricula, we are teaching students how to enjoy inquiry and the process of discovery and to use that knowledge and passion to inspire others.”

Phelps-Durr, along with Rogers and Mekolichick, also sat on the team that applied for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute [HHMI] Inclusive Excellence grant, which was awarded last month to Radford University and 23 other institutions in the amount of $1 million.

The CUR project and the HHMI grant are synergetic and will shape the future of the university’s rich undergraduate research offerings. While the HHMI grant will provide funding to expand upon the university’s Maker movement, the Transformations Project’s provided consultants will help construct a clear path toward creatively and effectively incorporating those Maker opportunities into curricula, Phelps-Durr explained.

“The two projects will align quite nicely,” she said.  

Taylor said the CUR consultants will especially help him and other faculty tackle the challenging task of incorporating undergraduate research and Maker activities into introductory-level courses.

“It’s easier to implement research at the upper-level,” Taylor explained. “Introductory class sizes are traditionally larger, and faculty oftentimes struggle to find the time and resources to incorporate research opportunities.”

As physics faculty transition to new office and laboratory spaces to accommodate the renovation of Reed-Curie Hall, Taylor said he is also hopeful the CUR consultants will offer innovative ways for faculty to teach in new settings.

Jul 18, 2017
Mary Hardbarger
(540) 831-5150