Starting this summer students at the University of Indianapolis will be able to do independent research as part of the Student Research Institute. The program is part of a series of initiatives meant to help students be more involved in scholarship at UIndy.
“The institute provides an opportunity for students to focus exclusively on a research project for a period of three weeks, which should be enough time to get started or maybe complete, depending [on] where they are on their project,” said Director of the SRI John Langdon. “They will be given a stipend, so they don’t have to worry about living expenses, kind of in lieu of a summer job for that three-week period.”
The program will be available to students from all disciplines across campus. Students must apply to the program and find a mentor to help guide them through the process. The program will run at the same time as Spring Term. Langdon hopes that after this summer, the program will take hold at the university.
“I hope to create a visible presence of this kind of activity on campus, so that other students coming in will see that this is a real possibility for them,” Langdon said. “I think that in the past one of the barriers to students getting involved in original research was simply the lack of models, the limits of their imagination. They would say, ‘Oh, that’s for professors. That’s for professionals. That’s not something I can do as a student.’”
The concept of interdisciplinary scholarship is not new for members of the College of Arts and Sciences. Acting Dean for the College of Arts and Sciences Jennifer Drake said that the exchange between disciplines is the most exciting part of the program.
“In the biggest picture, this [the SRI] is about creating and supporting a culture of intellectual exchange in all kind of ways, including outside of the classroom, getting together and talking about our work and our ideas and growing together intellectually,” Drake said. “And faculty, we’re so busy that we don’t have time to have those types of conversations with each other. So it offers both faculty and students the opportunity to engage in those types of conversations.”
Junior environmental science major Chelsea Westerfield will participate this year in a project about invasive species management programs. Westerfield eventually will use her initial research to complete her honors project.
“This is the type of work that I’m considering doing after I graduate. Next year, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to go to grad school after I graduate,” Westerfield said. “I want to work with aquatic invasive species. But to gain skills in data collection and working with equipment, identifying plants, working with the field guides, things like that, I want to be a part of the research opportunity now.”
Westerfield said that she has been completely independent during the planning part of her project and will continue to be independent during the summer.
“As far as my hypothesis, it’s all my own idea. Whenever I’m collecting my data out in the field, that’s completely independent. I’m going to be out by myself just using my equipment, and I really like that aspect,” Westerfield said.
Associate Professor of Biology Sandra Davis will be Westerfield’s mentor during this process and believes that students can have a better sense of ownership from doing their own project.
“I’ve been really impressed with what she’s been able to do so far in terms of researching her project idea. She really came up with her project on her own,” Davis said. “… That’s really good for students, because they have a sense of ownership over what they’re doing. And if a student really feels like it is their project, they take it much more seriously than if it’s something they’re doing for somebody else.”
Westerfield said that she initially was worried about graduate school and doing the necessary research projects to prepare for her work. This project will help her get a grasp of graduate work, and she believes it will give her an edge when she applies to graduate schools.
“I really want to end up living in Florida or that southern area of the US. This is, I feel, the best way for me to transition from Indiana is through grad school,” Westerfield said. “I hope this will show future professors when I’m applying that I am serious about the environment and helping to preserve natural areas.”