INTERDISCIPLINARY UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH ON ENVIRONMENTAL TOPICS: MAKING IT POSSIBLE
The Environmental Studies Program (ENS) at Alfred University has two full-time faculty members (a geologist and a biologist) and typically has 30-40 declared undergraduate majors, with 10 to 15 students completing interdisciplinary research on environmental topics each year. Each ENS major is required to complete a self-designed undergraduate research project during their senior year. We believe it is crucial to the success of the project that students choose their own research topic; however, that often creates a challenge for the two ENS faculty members who may or may not have the background or expertise in the topics the students choose. We typically have faculty members in other departments, therefore, act as research mentors for our students, but that presents its own set of issues as we find ourselves in the position of "imposing" on non-departmental faculty to spend their time advising students that arent in their own programs. Because of this, we have instituted 1-, 2-, and 3-credit hour research methods, research planning, and senior seminar classes that we teach within the department which allow us to introduce our students to interdisciplinary research, including much of the methodology which is common to all types of scientific research (literature searching, proposal writing, data analysis, data presentation, etc.). These courses, which add relatively few total credit hours to the students major program, allow ENS faculty to shoulder a fair amount of the burden of preparing and advising ENS students with their senior research projects. The faculty in other departments who are acting as research advisors on interdisciplinary projects can then make better use of their time and concentrate on helping the students with the scientific aspects of their research projects.