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Faculty and Student Collaboration

Working Together: Faculty / Student Mentorship

By Sean Godfroy, College of Arts and Sciences Intern

Collaboration

To gain valuable experience in their fields, students and faculty alike explore topics they are passionate about. Academic collaborations between students and professors can take many forms: lab-based experiments, service-learning projects, field research, and so forth. Whatever form the research takes, collaborative projects provide vital skills and experiences that will aid students professionally when they graduate.

Last fall, students and faculty collaborated to launch an online student-run newsroom, IPFW Student Media. Advocated as a need by Daniel Tamul, assistant professor of communication, the newsroom gives students in journalism classes a chance to have their news stories peer reviewed and then published online at IPFW. The center allows these students to practice revising stories for publication and helps them build a professional portfolio of published work.

Samantha WhitingIn addition to publishing student work, the newsroom also offers positions for student editors and fact-checkers. Tamul appointed communication majors Samantha Whiting and Megan Mantica as the first students to run IPFW Student Media. “They publish what they want, they reject what they want,” Tamul explained. “I have asked them though that they try to push the stories as far as they can. If there’s something that could be good, then they try to work with the student because the goal for the newsroom is to help students be better journalists and writers.”

Whiting and Mantica have full editorial control over IPFW Student Media. Though not actively involved in the actual editorial process, Tamul acts as a mentor and is available to discuss any questions or concerns. Otherwise, Whiting and Mantica handle day-to-day newsroom operations. “There are all different types of work I do in the newsroom,” Mantica commented. “I meet with students to discuss story ideas. I edit and explain errors and issues within students’ writing. It's taught me a lot not only about journalism but also about management and working with people.” Mantica was particularly pleased with the amount of practical experience her editorial position gave her. “Academically this experience has challenged me to actually use what I'm learning in the classroom and continue it in a school environment,” she said. “What I am most excited about is taking all aspects of what I've learned and applying them to my future career.”

History Conference

To encourage academic research among students, IPFW hosts a number of conferences and presentations. The annual Undergraduate History Conference offers students the opportunity to closely study and formally present a historical topic to an academic audience. These students work with faculty mentors, who provide them with valuable feedback and insight. At the 2016 conference, students explored an array of topics ranging from the creation of the CIA and the Cuban Missile Crisis to the development of radio and the Ouija board.

Heather Dewey, a junior history major, wrote her paper on Mexico reinstating the ejido system of communal farmland (mentor: Richard Weiner, chair and professor of history): “I think it’s extremely helpful to have the professor’s input because they’re an expert in what they do, and it’s useful to have someone else’s opinion and to have someone to help you find information that you might not necessarily be able to find on your own,” Dewey added, “It’s sort of nice to have them as a sounding board, an advisor, and as someone who can help you find materials.”

Many faculty members encourage their students to take part in events like academic or professional conferences. As Weiner commented, “We think this is a really good experience for students. It gives them practice in public speaking. It gets them used to academic conferences—what they’re about—enhances their resume, [and] it’s good for career and professional development.” Weiner continued, “Conferences are places where people are able to present their ideas and get feedback on those ideas, and then receive some, maybe, new perspectives on things that help them move forward with these projects in the future.”

Often, student-faculty collaboration can benefit nearby communities as well. In 2015, Assistant Professor Sherrie Steiner (sociology) involved her Sociology S360, Environmental Sociology, students in a service learning project with the community group, Blackford County Concerned Citizens, to promote environmental safety and awareness by testing contaminant levels in fourteen private water wells. Small groups of the students created informational videos, mapped current and past local industrial sites, and prepared a formal presentation of their findings.

Service learning projects like this work in Blackford County not only provideSociology information that will benefit the local community, but the process also shows students the impacts that their research can have. Steiner’s student, Ben Reusser, realized, “Being a good citizen means employing the talents and knowledge I have gained to improve my country and community. This is the area in which I live and to allow that area to decline or remain stagnant when I can offer assistance is unacceptable.”

Over the course of this class project, the students overcame several challenges with assistance and encouragement from Steiner. Initially intimidated by the video quality requested, the class was able to produce a video that Blackford County Concerned Citizens used in community education presentations. Students also altered their project to meet the needs of their community partners by revising their initial storyboard (the “script” for the video) and interviewing a new professional at the last minute. These tasks and changes help students to develop essential professional skills while also helping to make a difference in Blackford County’s environmental health.

Brandon Myers, another of Steiner’s students, remarked, “I believe it is paramount to use the skills acquired in college to do good. I believe those that can, should because not everyone knows they can make a difference. I believe college is providing me with the skills I need to make more of a difference.” Opportunities like these allow students to apply their research in a way that connects them to their community as well as their future careers.

Students working alongside faculty on research teams not only gain valuable academic experience, but their work can be beneficial to their faculty mentors' projects. Steven Stevenson, associate professor of chemistry, employs students from a variety of majors in his lab to help him synthesize and purify new molecules. “Undergraduate IPFW students have led to data and results that I put into research proposals that have been funded,” he explained. “I put an IPFW’s undergraduate student’s results in a recent National Science Foundation grant, and it was just funded. It just started. So a lot of credit goes to these students. Their work goes into book chapters, into publications.”

Stevenson wants to provide unique opportunities for lab-based research and scholarship, and he offers it to capable students from any major, not just chemistry. Hannah Masri, an undergraduate nursing major, has worked with Stevenson to isolate new molecules for specific projects. “Some of these projects have medical applications, which as a nursing student I find particularly interesting,” Masri explained. Another of Stevenson’s lab workers, undergraduate psychology major Hannah Thompson, is excited about the opportunities this research gives her. “When applying to graduate schools, being able to list research and co-authored publications on my resume will give me a competitive edge,” Thompson said. “Most graduate programs are research-oriented, and the fact that I have past experience of working in a research group will make me a desirable applicant.” Even though they are researching outside their majors, these undergraduate students are gaining marketable credentials and experience that will benefit them in their future careers, experiences that are restricted to graduate students at most universities.

There are many opportunities available for students to collaborate with faculty mentors. Researching alongside an instructor or taking part in long-term projects helps students develop skills and gain experience. By creating opportunities for students to engage with topics that interest them, providing mentorship to guide them, and developing a culture of undergraduate research on our campus, IPFW’s faculty encourage greater scholarship and set students up to succeed after college.