Undergraduate research at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University has been an important part of the student experience for more than two decades; but in the last five years, it has become clear that research is truly for everyone at CSB and SJU, marked by increased engagement and investments across campus.
Since 2017, students at Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s have co-authored 15 different scholarly articles for peer-reviewed publications – including the American Journal of Undergraduate Research and the Journal of American College Health, among others. Another 22 have traveled all over the United States to present before the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. And nearly 100 have co-authored presentations to other external audiences, including the American Chemical Society, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and the International Society of Political Psychology. On campus, more than 700 students present research or creative work annually during Celebrating Scholarship & Creativity Day.
Research has become such a focus on both campuses that, just two years after the launch of the schools’ Office of Undergraduate Research & Scholars, CSB and SJU for the first time applied and already received finalist status for perhaps the top honor liberal arts schools can receive in the sector.
The Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) has presented the Award for Undergraduate Research Accomplishments (AURA). It honors exemplary programs that provide high-quality research experiences for undergraduates. The first recipients were Allegheny (Pennsylvania) College, The College of New Jersey, and George Mason (Virginia) University in 2015. The 2022 winner was Norwich (Vermont) University.
“It’s an honor just to be selected as a finalist,” said Lindsey Gunnerson Gutsch, director of OURS, who collaborated with campus partners to submit an initial letter of intent (up to 750 words) to CUR and then was invited as a finalist to submit a full portfolio (up to 30 pages). “Almost 30% of our students are involved in research and we have a 24-year history of Celebrating Scholarship & Creativity Day on campus. That shows research is embedded in our overall mission and culture – in and outside the classroom – and we have wonderful institutional support to thank for that. Four out of every 10 faculty members mentor research or creative work, and we’ve financially supported 40 students to travel to external conferences in the past year to share their work with others. We have broad engagement across disciplines. For these reasons and more, we believe we’re a premier organization for undergraduate research and that’s only validated by being an AURA finalist.”
CUR, which also presents individual awards across 13 different areas of concentration, outlines the criteria for the AURA in its Characteristics of Excellence in Undergraduate Research. Past recipients also include Clemson (South Carolina) University, Furman (South Carolina) University, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Denison (Ohio) University, Florida Atlantic University, Hope (Michigan) College, Union (New York) College, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Bridgewater (Massachusetts) State University, Florida State University, Occidental (California) College, Georgia College & State University, Utah State, Elon (North Carolina) University, Mercer (Georgia) University and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. There has never been a winner from Minnesota.
That could change because of the accessible research programming at CSB and SJU. The Emerging Scholars Program, which pairs historically underrepresented students with faculty mentors for a paid research experience during their first year on campus, has helped create a culture where anyone can participate in research. Higher percentages of students of color, first-generation students and those who are Pell-eligible are now involved in research than the equivalent of their representation on campus. Further, all first-year and transfer students are placed in an asynchronous course, Experience Hub, that introduces them to research during their first semester. The Experience Hub also aggregates career services, internships, leadership opportunities and study abroad programs, in addition to OURS. Every student has an experiential learning requirement as part of their curriculum, which means engagement in undergraduate research can count toward graduation requirements. And more than 60 students participate in summer research on campus each year, earning compensation for a 10-week, full-time position at $6,500 plus room and board.
“As institutions, we are focusing on strengthening the student experience,” Gutsch said. “That is going to distinguish who we are, and our research program will be part of that. I’m thrilled about the investments we’ve made so far and, as we continue to make a name for ourselves, hopefully that will lead to even more investment from donors and friends excited to support the next generation of scholars.”
The recipient or recipients of the 2023 AURA are expected to be announced early in 2024. In addition to a plaque and publicity, awardees receive a one-year enhanced institutional membership to CUR at no cost.