CLA boosts freshman research

The expansion is intended to help make college students more interested in research.

Keaton Schmitt

When he was a freshman, journalism sophomore David Clarey analyzed and categorized journalists’ tweets as part of a freshman research project. 
 
In an effort to bolster the College of Liberal Arts’ future research capacity, this spring the college is set to nearly double the number of students taking part in the freshman research program that oversees projects like Clarey’s.
 
The college received $300,000 in funding this year for the Dean’s Freshman Research and Creative Scholars program, which will increase the number of available scholarships to 158. 
 
CLA leaders say it’s also part of an effort to make the college’s students more interested in research.
 
The program pairs freshmen with a professor and allows them to start researching their first year at the University. Students granted the scholarship receive a $2,000 stipend as well as a financial aid package.
 
“We believe offering freshmen the opportunity to do research with a professor to be a strong developmental activity for future academics,” said Gary Oehlert, the associate dean of undergraduate education at CLA.
 
The program’s expansion is part of CLA Dean John Coleman’s plan to increase the college’s research potential.
 
Now, students in the program are offered the scholarship at the beginning of their spring semester, but in the future, incoming freshmen will be offered entry into the program upon their acceptance into the University, Oehlert said.
 
Students participating in the program conduct research in fields ranging from psychology to music, with 18 CLA departments participating in the program last year and 22 this year.
 
“I didn’t have any idea research existed in fields like journalism,” Clarey said.
 
Professors say through the program, students can cut their teeth on substantial research, not busywork.
 
“[The program] jumpstarts them into other labs,” said Wilma Koutstaal, a professor of psychology and a participant in the program.
 
In many cases, students who receive the scholarship also undergo training on the ethics of research, informed consent, confidentiality and the importance of weighing risk against benefits in research, said Scott Lipscomb, an associate professor of music who has participated in the program for several years.
 
“It is one of the absolute best programs we can have at a research institution,” Lipscomb said.
 
Students given the scholarship often go on to become research assistants for the professors they were connected with, allowing them to go in-depth on topics, said Evan Roberts, an assistant professor who does research at the Minnesota Population Center.
 
“The first student I was paired with ended up being a research assistant with me for several more years,” Roberts said. “I was very sad to see him go.”