Chemistry students are continually exposed to investigative research beginning with their earliest encounters with faculty. Students quickly recognize that participation in undergraduate research is one of the most attractive features of choosing to major in chemistry. It is within this environment that teaching and research become inextricably linked. Undergraduate research provides innumerable teaching opportunities which not only benefit the students, but also the faculty. The commitment to undergraduate education by faculty encourages the frequent exchange of ideas between research groups and formal coursework. A range of experience and information must be applied when designing experiments, evaluating results, and solving research problems. This experience unquestionably translates into better teaching in both the lab and the classroom.
We believe that an undergraduate research project is one of the very best preparations for our graduates who further their education. Over the past five years, an average of 66% of our graduating chemistry majors (almost all of which participated in undergraduate research) have indicated their intent to pursue graduate studies in chemistry, biochemistry, or chemistry-related programs. A list of graduate programs in which UCA Chemistry graduates have enrolled is available.
Undergraduate participation in research is a requirement of the chemistry department’s ACS-approved curriculum. Students who meet expectations may begin their research as early as the second semester of their freshman year. A broad spectrum of research programs exist within the department in all subdivisions of chemistry, including biochemistry, environmental, analytical, physical, inorganic, organic chemistry, and computational chemistry. Chemistry faculty support these research efforts by obtaining external funding to support this work including the addition of moderninstrumentation. For the 2009-2010 academic year, the UCA Chemistry Department had 59 students enrolled in a research laboratory experience with 140 students declared as chemistry majors.
The department of chemistry is actively engaged with the broader scientific community. Chemistry faculty and students disseminate their research findings through presentations at national or regional conferences and publications in peer-reviewed journals (most with undergraduate co-authors). Three chemistry faculty were responsible for organizing the undergraduate program at the 2008 Southwest Regional Meeting (SWRM) of the American Chemical Society in which undergraduate research from across the region was highlighted in a total of 121 papers presented in three oral symposia and two poster sessions.
Undergraduate research also is an integral part of the culture at UCA and a particular focus of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (CNSM). Undergraduate research is regularly promoted verbally by faculty during lectures, and examples from ongoing research projects are used to illustrate some lecture concepts. The collegial atmosphere, supported by activities like chalk-talk seminars and poster sessions, also means that science and mathematics faculty outside of chemistry are able to direct interested students to research projects in this department. This emphasis on undergraduate research has received enthusiastic administrative support at all levels of the university. Particularly noteworthy is the recent establishment of the STEM residential college in which undergraduates receive focused instruction in science and mathematics. The College maintains a web-based directory listing summaries of faculty research projects available to undergraduates, as well as faculty expectations, benefits to students, and practical suggestions for how students may become involved. CNSM students are actively encouraged to participate in research and are offered opportunities to present their research to the university community and at national conferences. Each year, CNSM sponsors an annual Research Symposium. In Spring 2010, 122 students mentored by 44 faculty members presented posters describing their original research results to the university community. Students are also encouraged to participate in monthly CNSM chalk-talk sessions. During these sessions, students present their research to audiences numbering 15- 25 CNSM students and faculty. In the past five years, over 100 student researchers have participated in these chalk-talk presentations, representing all CNSM departments. In 2009, half of all chalk-talks were presented by chemistry students.