Monday, November 1, 2010

Integrating Undergraduate Research into the Curriculum at Lincoln University: Advantages and Challenges

Guest Blogger: Derrick Swinton

The discussion regarding integrating research into the curriculum at Lincoln University has intensified. Several factors have contributed to this discussion with the most important being the completion of the new science building, the establishment of the Centers of Excellence, mandates and resolutions by the Board of Trustees (resolution whereby LU graduates should be prepared for acceptance into a top 50 graduate or professional school, the charge for LU to be amongst the top 10 HBCUs), the overall financial stability of the university, and more importantly the retention and persistence to graduation of LU students majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The topic is very relevant and should take precedence on the agendas of those discussing LU’s future.

It must be noted that although Lincoln University has primarily been an undergraduate teaching institution, faculty at LU have historically engaged in research activities, as is evidence by faculty publications, research quality equipment owned by the Science Departments, and the fact that LU, in its prime, has produced many of the nation's African American medical doctors, scientists, and mathematicians. The list of LU alumni who have impacted the scientific and medical fields is numerous and includes such alumni as Hildrus A. Poindexter, the first African American to receive both an M.D. (Harvard University, 1929) and a Ph.D. (Bacteriology, Columbia University, 1932); Nathan Francis Mossell (1856-1946), the first African-American to earn a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania and Member of the Niagara Movement, and others. The aforementioned achievements were unprecedented during the beginning of the 20th century and remain one of LU’s proud achievements. Provided such achievements, it is difficult to envision that at some point in time LU science faculty weren’t actively engaged in research and research integrated into the curriculum. There are other factors that contributed to the success of these students at that time; nevertheless, it is important to note and recognize the significance of research and its impact on the training of our students. With that being said, the dialogue regarding this matter should continue and take priority, concurrently, with other matters.

The Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health, and other agencies, noted the importance of undergraduate research (UR) and have adopted programs to support and stimulate UR activities, especially at primarily undergraduate teaching institutions. In fact LU is the recipient of various grants to support and stimulate UR. Nonetheless, challenges remain at LU in making the transition from primarily an undergraduate teaching institution to an institution with an active and effective undergraduate research program. Additionally challenges remain in integrating research into the curriculum. A few of challenges are listed.

1. Administrative Structure.
a. Despite support and efforts by the administration to address the topic, LU does not have a centralized office or position fully dedicated to advancing undergraduate research.
b. The administration has not been fully committed to undergraduate research or made it a priority.
c. The administration and faculty may not be familiar with the impact of undergraduate research on retention and persistence to graduation of minority STEM students.

2. Faculty Engagement
a. For various reasons some faculty aren’t interested in conducting research.
b. Some professors do not have the training, experience, and aptitude to conduct research.

3. CBA
a. The CBA is limited in scope and does not encourage scholarship, post tenure.
b. An incentive to conduct research is lacking.
c. Faculty receive an across the board salary despite performance reviews and pledge to support the LU community at-large, thus encouraging mediocrity, and placing the workload and burden on a few faculty.

4. Students
a. Students aren’t familiar with the expectations related to their career choices.
b. Students aren’t exposed to and are aware of the impact of undergraduate research on their understanding of classroom concepts.
c. Limited on-campus opportunities exist for students interested in conducting research.

Note, the commentary is not intended to be derogatory or an affront to anyone or any group, but is intended to encourage the LU community to continue its efforts to remain competitive and address the issues (retention, graduation rate, student preparedness, degree prestige) important to all of its constituencies: students, administrators, faculty, alumni, and the community at-large. In order to accomplish any initiatives undertaken by the administration and faculty, the issue of undergraduate research should be discussed because it impacts academic competitiveness, student achievement, and LU financial stability/sustainability. To begin the discussion, a few questions are presented and references provided for review.
1. What are some of the existing impediments to LU making the transition?

2. Can LU remain academically competitive and financially stable without some level of research activities?

3. Should LU consider offering a M.S. degree in the Natural Sciences?

4. Should there be differentiated pay scales for faculty who write and receive grants?

5. Should there be a thesis requirement for graduation?

Jones, M.T., Barlow, A. E. L., Villarejo, M. (2010). Importance of Undergraduate Research for Minority Persistence and Achievement in Biology. The Journal of Higher Education, 81(1), 82-115

Gandara, P., Maxwell-Jolly, J. (1999). Priming the pump: Strategies for increasing the achievement of underrepresented minority undergraduates. New York: College Board.

Grandy, J. (1998). Persistence in science of high-ability minority students: results of a longitudinal study. The Journal of Higher Education, 69, 589–620.

Hunter, A. B., Laursen, S. L., Seymour E. (2007) Becoming a scientist: The role of undergraduate research in students' cognitive, personal, and professional development. Science Education, 91(1), 36-74.

Nagda, B.A., Gregerman, S.R., Jonides,J., Hippel, William von, Lerner, J.S. (1998). Undergraduate Student-Faculty Research Partnerships Affect Student Retention. The Review of Higher Education 22(1), 55-72

Russell, S. H., Hancock, M. P., McCullough, J. (2007). The pipeline - Benefits of undergraduate research experiences. Science, 316(5824), 548-549.


  1. Thanks, Dr. Swinton, for bringing this up. I do not see teaching as conflicting with research. At the university level, they complement each other. As you accurately report, "It must be noted that although Lincoln University has primarily been an undergraduate teaching institution, faculty at LU have historically engaged in research activities." The question, then, becomes one of priorities, given that we service a disadvantaged population that, in many cases, cannot read or write every well (even at the pre-college level).

  2. Dr. Kwame - I share the same sentiments. It is difficult for me to get students to read and interpret their lab experiments. What I find myself doing is reading the lab experiment to them step by step, even after I have read the experiemnt to the entire class. In this respect, the labs are very time demanding becuase some students are having difficulty reading and understanding science. Nevertheless, I know they are capable of learning and my desire is to get them to a level whereby they can begin to grasp the concepts. My conclusion is that we can help our students overcome their challenges, but we have to take a different approach and acknowledge some facts.



  3. Good thinking! I agree: "My conclusion is that we can help our students overcome their challenges, but we have to take a different approach and acknowledge some facts." What approach and facts are you thinking of?

    P.S. Sorry about the "every well" typo. I meant "very well."