St. Norbert College
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    Connections Newsletter
    Issue 2                                                                                                                                         Spring Semester 2012


    Notes from the Collaborative

    A Note from the Collaborative Director

    Collaborative Opportunities

    Research & Academic Travel Funding Opportunities

    Collaborative Research Showcase

    2011 Summer-Fall Collaborative Grants Awards

    Snapshot of Summer-Fall Collaborative Grants

    Student-Faculty Development Endowment Fund Award Recipients

    McNair Scholars Presentations

    Student Profiles

    United Nations New York Trip

    Sponsor: Dr. Gratzia Villarroel

    VanSchyndel & Hill-Soderlund


    Important Dates

    Mar. 19, 2012 Collaborative Summer-Fall Grant applications due

    Mar. 29-31, 2012 National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR)

    Apr. 20, 2012 Collaborative Continuation Grant applications due

    May 4, 2012 Student Academic Travel Grant and Attendee Grant applications due





    A Note from the Collaborative Director

    Why the Dickens is Undergraduate Collaborative Research so Important?

    Charles Dickens, who celebrates his 200th anniversary in 2012, might have called his historical novel, A Tale of Two Colleges. Forget the French Revolution. The war now is over the quality of education delivered by colleges and universities, particularly in the United States.  “It was the best of times; it is now the worst of times,” the pundits seem to suggest.

    A slew of studies critiquing higher education have appeared over the last year. In the last issue of Connections I reported on Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (2010), which concluded that colleges and universities are failing at teaching students in stunning ways:

    • 45% of first and second-year college students show no significant improvement in critical thinking, complex, reasoning, and writing skills
    • 36% showed little improvement in these skills after four years
    • 35% spend five or fewer hours per week studying
    • 32% did not have to read more than 40 pages per week
    • 50% reported that they never had to write more than 20 pages a semester

    While Arum and Roksa lay blame on the entire academic system, they conclude that academic administrations are more interested in profit that professing.

    But there is more. How about these titles?  In The Faculty Lounges: And Other Reasons Why You Won't Get the College Education You Pay For (2011), Naomi Schaefer Riley is indeed riled over faculty lounges, which reflect the insurmountable problems with the tenure system. In a related complaint, Mark C. Taylor, in  Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities (2010), argues that colleges and universities must focus more on teaching, less on “rarified research”--and a fundamental way to end this crisis is to end tenure. Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids---and What We Can Do About It (2010), by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, while more moderate in its diatribe, still finds that higher education has lost its focus on education in its continued self-indulgent methods—tenure for faculty, over-reliance on part-time teachers, and bloated academic bureaucracies. Even students take a hit: Craig Brandon in The Five-Year Party: How Colleges Have Given Up on Educating Your Child and What You Can Do About  It (2010) blames students for not engaging in school, and suggests ways to make parents in even more control of the educational helicopter. Not to be left out, Bill Maher and his panelist lamented the sad state of higher education on a recent episode of Real Time. Bleak, indeed, Dickens might have written in his famous anti-college novel, Animal House.

    As students, professors, academic staff, and administrators at St. Norbert College, we sense that St. Norbert is not academically adrift, is not failing our students. Indeed, we do have some faculty lounges, but that’s balanced by our four-year graduation guarantee, which cuts down on that extra year of parties!

    Higher education may have its challenges, and one is tempted to mock these hyperbolic jeremiads against us, which certainly leads to a kind of college catharsis. But there is direct evidence that colleges and universities are doing admirable work, doing serious business in the educating our students.  At the center of this work is undergraduate collaborative research.  In High-Impact Practices: What They Are. Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter (2008), George Kuh categorized collaborative research as one of those high-impact practices. In the follow-up Student Success in College: Creating Conditions that Matter (2010, with Jillian Kinzie, John Schuh, and Elizabeth Whitt), Kuh and his colleague’s reiterate the importance of these high-impact practices.

    In addition, we now have direct evidence that collaborative research leads to heightened learning and aids in retention. Jayne E. Brownell and Lynn E. Swaner, in Five High-Impact Practices: Research on Learning Outcomes, Completion, and Quality (2010), focus on the following "purposeful pathways" that lead to a more productive educational experience. I've listed those programs that St. Norbert is actively engaged in:

    • First-Year Seminars
    • Learning Communities
    • Service Learning
    • Undergraduate Research
    • Capstone Courses and Projects

    This list is quite familiar to us, for St. Norbert has been focusing on these practices for many years.  We are now making them into a more formal structure on campus. The Collaborative, the literal center of undergraduate research, now in its second year of overseeing a budget for undergraduate research, reflects the College's commitment to high-impact practices.

    Brownell and Swaner conclude that undergraduate research, in particular, leads to

    • Higher rate of persistence
    • Higher rate of graduate school enrollment
    • Improvement in research skills
    • Increased interaction with faculty and peers
    • Gains in problem solving and critical thinking
    • Greater satisfaction with educational experience

    To keep our friend Dickens interested, we might say that St. Norbert College, with its focus on high-impact practices is meeting our great expectations.

    This article began with the best of times, and the worst of times. And it will end in a similar fashion. The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) commissioned study-- “Raising the Bar: Employers’ Views on College Learning in the Wake of the Economic Downturn” (2010)—reflects the growing pessimism over higher education, but it also provides schools like St. Norbert with some assurances. In the report, the AAC&U reports that only one in four employers find colleges and universities doing a good job preparing future employees. Ouch! Hang on. There’s some hope. As the report states, employers consistently “endorse learning outcomes for college graduates that are developed through a blend of liberal and applied learning.” What needs to be developed through such “liberal learning,” according to the study, is to concentrate on four learning outcomes, which should make St. Norbert College feel vindicated in its mission. In particular, our emphasis on collaborative undergraduate research is highlighted in two  of the outcomes. The percentages reflect employers’ desires for colleges and universities to focus more on these issues:

    • Knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world
    • Intellectual and practical skills, including the ability to communicate effectively, orally, and in writing (89%); Critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills (81%); the ability to analyze and solve complex problems (75%); teamwork skills and the ability to collaborate with others . . . (71%); the ability to innovate and be creative (70%); the ability to locate, organize and evaluate information from multiple sources (68%); the ability to work with numbers and understand statistics (63%)
    • Personal and social responsibility
    • Integrative learning, such as the ability to apply knowledge and skill to real-world settings through internships or other hands-on experiences (79%)

    St. Norbert College should continue to highlight the quality of undergraduate research that is happening on our campus, for it leads to high-impact learning, aids retention, and positions our graduates competitively in the workforce. The Collaborative will continue to push for additional funds to create an even more sophisticated undergraduate research program that will prepare graduates for the competitive world of work.

    Collaboration, as we have seen, is the future in higher education. Yet it has a healthy past. Even our friend Dickens saw the importance of collaboration. Most of his novels were illustrated by illustrious illustrators of the Victorian period--George Cruikshank, “Phiz,” Robert Seymour, George Cattermole, Marcus Stone, John Tenniel. Dickens also conducted two popular serial magazines, Household Words and All the Year Round, and they succeeded because of collaborations amongst writers and illustrators and researchers. Collaboration, as I imagine Dickens writing in his last completed novel, is Our Mutual Friend.




    St. Norbert Collaborative

    Phone: (920) 403-3147
    Fax: (920) 403-4086

    St. Norbert College • 100 Grant Street • De Pere, WI 54115-2099 • 920-337-3181