February 16, 2006
Undergraduate Research at La Salle Offers Opportunities
for Students and Faculty to Work Together
James Butler is something of a yenta, a matchmaker, looking for that perfect blend. Has he become the latest dating service at La Salle University, where he’s a professor of English? Not quite. Unlike the yenta women who find husbands for wives, and vice versa, Butler pairs interests as well as people.
“I match students and faculty based on their interests,” says Dr. Butler, who directs the University’s independent research program, “and I make pairs that will work well together.”
The program is open to all majors, including those in La Salle’s three schools – Arts and Sciences, Business, and Nursing and Health Sciences -- who have at least a 3.0 grade point average. Butler says that students can suggest topics to faculty, or faculty can suggest topics to students.
“There is nothing like undergraduate research and the validation it offers the students who participate,” said Dr. Thomas Keagy, Dean of La Salle’s School of Arts and Sciences. He believes that student research is a cornerstone to education: “The projects provide access to the faculty as they conduct research together,” he said.
Some of the topics explored in the fall semester of 2005 were “James Joyce’s Ulysses”; “An Exploration of Globalization from a Social Work Perspective”; “Research: Flash/Action Scripting”; and “Assessing Medical Professionals’ Knowledge of and Treatment for Postpartum Depression.” (A full list of projects can be found at www.lasalle.edu/academ/undergradresearch/project.htm.)
Keagy made undergraduate research a priority when he arrived at La Salle in the summer of 2003. He has seen research at other universities work to bring students into personal contact with professors and also show students what they can do.
“I’ve also seen how working with students on research projects can energize faculty as well as the students,” said Keagy.
Jason Alger, a 2004 La Salle graduate, completed a research project on the theme of Jerusalem in the poetry of Else Lasker-Schüler. “I really would recommend that every student undertake such a project since it tests not only one's academic abilities but also affords one the possibility to create something substantial and worthwhile,” he said.
The project “was certainly a worthwhile opportunity since I was able to present something I had researched and developed to people in the Germanic languages and literature field,” said Ager, who studied in Germany for a year as a Fulbright Scholar. He is using his project as a writing sample with his applications to graduate schools.
Projects have also allowed current students to find out what interests them and how those interests can become a career.
After completing two projects, Giavanna DeRita decided she wanted to have a career in international law.
These projects were a huge part for me making that decision,” said DeRita. She realized that she “definitely doesn’t want to just stand around in a courtroom and defend bad guys.”
A senior at La Salle, DeRita completed research to examine the displacement of Afro-Colombians in a region of Colombia known as El Choco. After presenting her project at the Foreign Languages Symposium at La Salle, DeRita was asked by Dr. Luisa Ossa to assist her on a research project she was doing on analyzing Asian characters who live in the Caribbean in the works of author Mayra Montero.
Several of the La Salle students’ projects have been published in national academic journals or presented at national conferences. But regardless of whether or not the work is nationally recognized, the students are invited to present their projects to the La Salle community. Students are also given acknowledgements by faculty for their help in the research.
Sharon Schoen, Ed.D, who directs the Special Education-Elementary Education program in La Salle’s Education Department, makes every student a research partner through student-teaching experiences.
While doing their student-teaching assignments, they take Schoen’s course in Teaching and Research Methods. Schoen instructs them in four methods to deal with behavior problems in the classroom. She says this is one of the most discussed topics among educators. If the student teachers have a disruptive student, they use the methods Schoen has taught them and measure their effectiveness by keeping a journal and then discussing it with Schoen.
“The research reinforces what they learned,” says Schoen, who has co-authored more than a dozen published papers with La Salle students based on their findings about the techniques they used.
And one student found a job through her project.
Amanda Tolino was doing an internship with Campbell's Soup in its Global Advertising Department last summer. She saw many old commercials and licensed products based on Andy Warhol’s famous painting of a Campbell Soup can. “Learning about Campbell's close affiliation with Warhol led me to want to explore his relationship with the company further,” said Tolino. “Being a dual major, the research project enabled me to combine both my Art History and Communication studies in one paper. I used my background from both disciplines and was able to apply them to this research, which was a great capstone to all my work in college.”
“My department (at Campbell’s) caught wind of my research project and I was assigned many Warhol-related tasks, including responding to media inquires regarding Warhol, working on stories for our corporate intranet on the artist, and working with the archivist to take an inventory of all the Warhol works that Campbell’s owns,” said Tolino.
When several other interns and employees left Campbell’s, the company’s Community Relations Department created the position of Public Affairs Assistant, just for her and she was hired full-time this past October.
La Salle University plans to continue its emphasis on undergraduate research because students and faculty know that the experience is invaluable.
-- Michelle Bauer