Southeastern Section–55th Annual Meeting (23–24 March 2006)

Paper No. 8
Presentation Time: 10:40 AM


YURKOVICH, Steven P., Department of Geosciences and Natural Resources Management, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC 28723 and LORD, Mark, Geosciences and Natural Resources, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC 28723,

Curriculum revisions usually include changes in content, discipline specific skills, critical thinking, etc. In redesigning our undergraduate curriculum we added another component: integration of student research into most of our courses. In the seven years that our curriculum has been in-place, the faculty have included a variety of activities from mini-projects in introductory courses to a required research Capstone experience for seniors. These projects have been complemented by summer research opportunities through NSF-REU and faculty research grants.

What have we learned in this period? Freshman and sophomores are having their first experience with research. It makes them aware of how science is done and how it can be used, and engages them more fully in courses. Faculty must design a project that works in a short period of time, must anticipate spending more one-on-one time with students, and must not be frustrated by having to teach some very basic concepts (e.g., how to take consistent, useable measurements). Projects for upper-level courses are more sophisticated and open-ended. Upperclassmen develop their own proposals and carry projects to completion; they are initially intimidated by the tasks but develop more confidence. There is a significant investment in faculty time for mentoring, guidance, logistics, etc. A culminating event of all research is some combination of an abstract, a poster, a report, or an oral presentation depending upon the course.

We have no formal evaluation of these research activities; however, anecdotal feedback suggests that for most students the experience has been demanding but fun and rewarding. They prefer hands-on activities rather than being talked to during each class. In all courses, students learn to think more critically, to communicate more effectively, and to develop interpersonal skills through group work. For upperclassmen, the results are more demonstrable. Since curricular revision, our majors have been co-authors of dozens of oral and poster sessions at meetings. We suspect these projects help prepare them for graduate school and are a plus in their acceptance to these schools. Further, employers have specifically told us that our students come to them well prepared, in part we hope, due to their independent projects.