For the past four years, AU students have been conducting research for the Sagamore Institute, a non-partisan think tank in Indianapolis. A group of undergraduate researchers from AU had their work on the decentralization of the Liberian government published by the Isoko Institute in the journal Marketplace: Liberia this January.
Dr. Michael Frank, professor of political science, has been the liaison between the Department of History and Political Science and the Sagamore Institute. Frank is proud of the work his students have done and believes they have made an incredible impact in the community.
“Seeing our students go down to Indianapolis at the end of a semester with their research, stand up in front of a group of professionals and say, ‘This is what we found,’ is one of the most rewarding moments that I’ve had as a faculty member,” Frank explains.
“Based on the reputation of the work that our students have done, and the quality of the work that they’ve done, there’s now an internship at Sagamore that is reserved for a student who is a national security major at AU,” says Frank. “It’s the only internship they have there that’s designated that way, so I think that’s a real testament to the impact that their work has had on the reputation of the university.”
Gabrielle Guerra, a senior international relations and national security major, was a member of the team of students who researched decentralization in Liberia. Guerra says that one of the greatest challenges they faced was learning to work together as a team, but that being able to bring very different people together to accomplish a common goal will serve her well in the future.
“There are very few professions where you will have no human interaction,” says Guerra. “You will have to work well with your colleagues, and you will have to work well as a team.”
Guerra says of being part of an undergraduate research group, “It teaches you how to work with people who don’t think like you and are probably the total opposite of you.”
Jack Render, a senior political science major, was also a part of the undergraduate research team. Render says he has learned a lot about conducting and presenting professional research, and that their work is a success.
“Presenting to a class can be difficult, but it’s a completely different experience presenting in front of experts that care about your research,” Render explains. “I learned what professional-level research actually looks like and how to sort through lots of information and pick out only what is needed but remember everything else in case it is necessary.”
“Research projects are interesting in that they don’t necessarily have a concrete goal of success,” says Render. “Our research was an assessment of an ongoing government program, with plenty of case studies to support our thoughts.“The point was not to make recommendations that would go immediately into effect, but we know it is being taken into consideration by someone who is working on this issue,” Render said. “Knowing that our information is there for him to see when he needs it is success to us, and hopefully will change the government decentralization program for the better.”
This February, Dr. Samantha Miller, assistant professor of the history of Christianity, will be taking a group of students from her Beginnings of Christianity class to a regional Biblical studies conference where they have the possibility to present their research. Dr. Miller has enjoyed watching her students grow in passion and in confidence that she knows will benefit them in the future.
“It’s a joy to watch my students come alive with curiosity and search out answers to their questions,” says Dr. Miller. “It’s a chance for them to take responsibility for their own learning, and they receive so much benefit and enjoyment out of projects like this rather than just another worksheet I give them in class.”
“In this particular class, most of the students plan to go on to graduate work, some of them even into becoming professors themselves,” Dr. Miller explains. “This is the kind of work that is asked of students in grad school. I hope this gave them enough confidence to stand behind their work and test out their ideas.”
Ryan Schwartz, a junior Bible and religion major, is one of the students from the School of Theology that will be attending the conference this February. Schwartz says that his undergraduate research experience has strengthened his confidence in his researching abilities and prepared him for the graduate level research he will be conducting in the future.
“It has made me much more comfortable in my researching and writing skills, which will be even more important as I progress through school,” Schwartz says. “I possibly could end up working on a doctorate if everything works out well, and this is a good first step in acquiring the skills I will need if I am to write a dissertation.
“I don’t really expect this research to impact the world,” says Schwartz, “but hopefully this research furthered my skills enough to eventually be able to do research that could impact the world.”
Undergraduate research has been cited by the Liberal Education and America’s Promise campaign of the Association of American Colleges and Universities as a high-impact educational practice.
Over the past 15 years, undergraduate research has grown in popularity among colleges and universities as a tool for equipping students with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in graduate school and in the workforce.