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Monday, August 8th, 2011 - 9:38 am

Undergraduate Research

PUC undergrads are advancing knowledge through scholarly activities

By LANE LAREAU
(Lane Lareau is a Purdue Calumet communication student and recent University Relations student intern)

‘We’re a midsize university with nearly 10,000 students. We’re working on something that many institutions comparable to us never even consider.’

Dr. Ralph Rogers, Purdue Calumet Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs

Late night phone calls. Early morning text messages. Meetings week in and week out. These are everyday occurrences for faculty members like Beth Vottero, an assistant professor of nursing at Purdue University Calumet, who passionately pursue academia and work alongside students in undergraduate research endeavors.

Purdue Calumet places a high priority on undergraduate students engaging in scholarly research activity as part of their educational experience. However, as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Ralph Rogers described, what began as a grassroots movement has grown into a campus-wide pursuit towards expanding students’ understanding and knowledge of various aspects of their academic interest.

Undergraduate Research - Science Fall 2011
More than 1,300 Purdue Calumet undergrads participated in scholarly research last academic year, with many presenting their projects during last spring’s Student Research Days.

During the 2010-11 academic year, 1,315 Purdue Calumet undergraduate students participated in scholarly research.

“We’re a midsize university with nearly 10,000 students,” Rogers said. “We’re working on something that many institutions comparable to us never even consider.”


Relational Learning

One word—“organic”—vividly portrays the growth and expansion of undergraduate research at Purdue Calumet, according to Rogers. The relationship between students and faculty members nurtures a mutual enthusiasm and excitement for strengthening one’s insights, he added.

Undergraduate research stems from the applied research of professors and instructors engaging in analysis of differing topics and academic interests and involving the assistance of students with likeminded interests to aid in their pursuits. This natural relationship between students and faculty reflects relational strengths and familiarity that surfaces in classrooms and laboratories.

When students first enter a classroom, faculty members are merely an authority, Rogers said. However, as students become involved in research and studies, faculty members become academic partners and colleagues.

Purdue Calumet’s chief academic officer added that the skills and networking one develops in research go far beyond textbooks and in-class format; a life-long friendship is created. Rogers recounted his experience over the decades as students he mentored in undergraduate research would maintain a relationship with him long after they received their diploma.

Ralph Rogers with 3 Student Researchers
Rogers says “it’s as good as it gets” when former students he has mentored in research contact him to share what they are doing in their careers.

PHOTO BY TOM HOCKER

“When you receive a phone call, two or three years – even 10 years later – telling you where they are in their careers and what they’ve done, that means a lot,” Rogers said. “That connection as a faculty member—it can’t be expressed how good it feels, reminding you why you became a teacher. It’s as good as it gets.”

Renato Vidigal, a Purdue Calumet political science major from Hammond, agreed.

“Besides helping students and the university with their practical and theoretical knowledge, faculty members play a very significant role inspiring students on what to do after graduation,” he said.


Faculty-student synergy drives research

The significance of undergraduate research can be seen in the results of the scholarly projects advanced. Purdue Calumet Director of Sponsored Programs Maja Marjanovic noted that students who partake in research activities apply their education in a fulfilling, hands-on manner. Some projects also benefit society and, more specifically, local communities and organizations. Other projects provide valuable support to the research activities of faculty. Finally, she added, all scholarly research contributes to the expansion of knowledge.

Rogers added that colleagues at Purdue’s West Lafayette research university are amazed at the level of undergraduate research that takes place at Purdue Calumet.

“It’s difficult for undergraduates at most schools to engage in research,” he said. “Here, we recognize the role and benefits of research. It’s a win, win, win, win situation.”

The motivation for undergraduate research exists within each of Purdue Calumet’s six academic schools.

“The campus-wide effort for research reflects the dedication of the faculty and enthusiasm of the students in the subjects each are involved in,” Rogers said. “There is a synergy that develops.”

Within the School of Education, this dedication is necessary to prepare students for careers that advance learning.

“Students in this school are life-long learners,” Student Advisor Michelle Ellis said. “Research is part of that as they learn to be more effective in the classroom.”

One high-need area of research the School of Education is addressing relates to special education. Elementary education majors apply studies beyond the elementary level to better understand developments that pertain to different learning abilities. Such prospective research projects further Purdue Calumet students’ understanding and equip them with experience they can apply when they enter their careers, Ellis said.

Within the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the School of Engineering, Mathematics and Science, students engage in research relying upon experimental studies, computer simulations and visualization. Much of the research aids in solving of real-world problems for local industries relating to productivity, energy, the environment and quality.

Last year, four mechanical engineering undergraduate students and two mechanical engineering graduates conducted research for NIPSCO. They collaborated with faculty members and NIPSCO engineers to analyze an inefficiently-performing boiler unit at the company’s Bailly Generating Station in Chesterton. The students utilized Purdue Calumet’s Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation to apply computational fluid dynamics and identify flow restrictions. As a result, NIPSCO installed an optimized exhaust duct that corrected the problem.

One year since the study, NIPSCO officials have reported an estimated $1.9 million in annual savings as a result of the improved boiler.


Research across academic boundaries

Although the School of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences covers a broad range of studies, undergraduate research allows students to apply abstract analysis and sort arguments.

Undergraduate Research with John Rowan
Research activities, according to Prof. Rowan (left), enable students to apply critical thinking and communication skills in exploring challenging beliefs.

“All the majors emphasize communication skills, critical thinking and challenging beliefs,” Professor of Philosophy John Rowan said. “Through research, students go beyond typical classroom studies to experience that first-hand, writing findings or presentation proposals.”

Last academic year, Vidigal and Yan Duan, an early childhood development student, worked with Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Development Su-Jeong Wee, examining how Chinese, Korean and Japanese cultures are depicted in recent American children’s picture books. The analysis encompassed 30 books published between 1980 and 2010 for children ages 3 to 8-years-old. The purpose of the study was to examine racism in children’s books.

Vidigal said the project provided him experience in abstract writing, conference proposals and literary review that will aid him when he applies for graduate school.

For nearly two decades, the School of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences also has hosted the annual Clement S. Stacy Undergraduate Research Conference to provide students an opportunity to share their research with fellow students and faculty from universities throughout the upper Midwest.

Within the School of Management, undergraduate research provides a skill-base that reveals what students can expect in their field when they graduate. Martine Duchatelet, dean of the School of Management, said the research projects are a perfect venue to equip students with marketability for post-graduate endeavors. She added that enthusiastic junior faculty members help fuel student research within the school.

During the 2010-11 academic year, Jing Ma, who graduated last spring with a degree in finance and accounting, conducted a research project with Professor of Information Systems Kuan-Chou Chen to study and analyze student usage of e-books in comparison to standard textbooks.

Last April, the two received the 2010 Undergraduate Research in Management Award for the project’s results cataloged in their research paper, “A Study of the Usage of e-Book: An Application of Importance-Performance Analysis.”

Seven undergraduate student research awardees, receiving scholarships offered through the School of Management with Chen, have continued into graduate studies, completing master degrees in MBA or Technology.

Students in the Department of Computer Information Technology and Graphics within the School of Technology have participated in undergraduate research that has both a local and global impact. Students supervised by Associate Professor Barbara Nicolai have worked on a two-year research project with the Northwest Indiana Computing Grid to develop a Disaster Management and Communication System.

The proposed technological system establishes a central database that remains operational in the event of a disaster. The network would provide local government agencies the ability to share information with one another, including storm damage assessments or missing people queries. Once developed, the application can be applied anywhere to aid in communication during disasters.

In addition to database servers, this research project made use of the Purdue Calumet Miner High Performance Computing System to match resources, such as medical supplies, food and water, with people, shelters, locations and other sources of need, as well as determine the best means to transport those resources to their needed location throughout simulation.


Evidence-based nursing

The School of Nursing’s experiential learning capstone course is preparing a new generation of nurses engaged in evidence-based practice and research. Vottero said the school seeks to instill educational nursing practices, specifically in the area of bedside care. A recent research project generated support to change practices for calling patients after their hospital discharge in an effort to reduce readmissions and increase patient satisfaction.

Nursing Poster
Over the years, some nursing students’ research has prompted change and a new protocol for treating hospital patients.

Students worked with the Indiana University La Porte Regional Health Center to identify current hospital processes and recommend improvements. The research consisted of patient case management, including categorizing questions asked during discharge callbacks.

Through the research, the students identified five standard questions asked by the hospital and suggesting two additional questions for each unit. The students also found that callbacks were most effective when performed by nurses. The hospital administration implemented the proposals and reported increased patient satisfaction and less readmissions for the same diagnosis.


Grant $$$ to support research

As undergraduate student research continues to grow in number of participants, including students satisfying requirements of Purdue Calumet’s experiential learning program, Rogers said the key is finding ways to sustain the momentum. Critical to this growth is gaining research grants.

These grants provide students and faculty funding support to accomplish research objectives. Applying for and receiving grants is an involved and highly-competitive process among institutions across the United States, Marjanovic said, adding that only about 20 percent of federal grant proposals are funded.

Purdue Calumet awarded students $94,829 in research grants during the 2010-11 academic year. Federal agencies are the primary funding source of these grants.

One example of funded research endeavors is the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), funded by the National Science Foundation. This project is a collaboration of eight university campuses. The goal is to broaden the capacity of undergraduate students from underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Since 2008, Purdue Calumet students have received $83,000 in LSAMP research grants, Marjanovic said.


Researching students gain an edge

Besides organic relationships, strengthened university support and faculty commitment, undergraduate research prepares students to see the career goals and objectives that exist outside textbooks and classroom walls.

Chuck Winer, head of Purdue Calumet’s Department of Computer Information Technology and Graphics, said undergraduate research stretches students beyond their comfort levels while prompting them to produce publishable papers and tangible projects.

“Undergraduate research is advantageous for students because it provides them an edge in applying for jobs,” he said. “Students bring their portfolios to potential employers, showing not only what they have done, but the functionality of having already done what is expected.”

Vidigal, who first heard of undergraduate research through e-mails, said the projects relay insights not otherwise available to

‘The research process as a whole, from articulating and submitting proposals to preparing and presenting the final product, is an invaluable aspect of any undergraduate experience.’

Joann Holmen of Elk Grove
Village, Ill., French major

students. The projects also produce opportunities for presentation at scholarly conferences.

Joann Holmen, a French major from Elk Grove Village, IL who participated in an interdisciplinary project with mechanical engineering students, said that skills honed through undergraduate research do not end with a degree.

“The research process as a whole, from articulating and submitting proposals to preparing and presenting the final product, is an invaluable aspect of any undergraduate experience,” she said. “Being able to clearly and powerfully present your ideas to an audience of such diverse academic backgrounds is an important skill.”

Instructor Vottero added, “The beauty of these (research) projects is that students receive mentoring in a small group. This helps to understand how students learn and to meet their learning needs. This advances the university since students take these critical thinking and questioning skills into the workforce.”


Looking to the future

According to Rogers, undergraduate student research goals for the future include increasing funding support for students to obtain research proposals and attend research conferences, as well as creating “studio space” to accommodate students in their research, unobstructed by distractions and tight facilities.

“Ultimately, we don’t want to over manage, but rather celebrate what is being done,” Rogers said. “The research happens because of the people involved. It’s a reflection of this campus’ faculty and students more than anything else.”