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Dean’s Reflections: Undergraduate Research Makes An Impact

These students shared their research about health communication at a fair in Caldwell Lounge.
Students shared their research at a health communication fair in Caldwell Lounge.

It’s always a joy when I get to bring my background as an educational psychologist to my current role as dean. Our college and campus emphasis on high-impact educational practice is a case in point.

Research by educational psychologists shows that ten educational practices—including study abroad, internships, and writing intensive courses, to name a few—have beneficial effects for students that last long after the experience ends. Students who participate in one or more of these activities are less likely to drop out. They also tend to graduate more quickly, and are likely to earn better grades than their peers.

Although we do not fully understand why these practices produce positive effects, I find myself drawing on three principles that guided my research on K-12 educational reform much earlier in my career, and which continue to hold true: Learning is deepest and broadest when

  • it demands precise application of discipline-specific knowledge and procedures;
  • students apply what they’ve learned to construct new knowledge; and
  • those new findings hold value well beyond the individual and the classroom.

Most of the high-impact educational practices embody these features, but none more so than undergraduate research.

CHASS Associate Dean Vicki Gallagher has spearheaded our college’s drive to expand students’ engagement in undergraduate research. She secured support from the NC State University Foundation to fund projects proposed by students in partnership with faculty mentors. These small grants provided enough support to allow students to conduct original inquiry into an area of interest to them in a manner consistent with the procedures of their discipline. In the process, they produced new knowledge of value to others—and with a profound and lasting value to themselves.

Undergraduate research and other high-impact educational experiences change our students, and in so doing, help them use what they learn at NC State to change the world.

My work to understand and support high-impact practices is driven both by my responsibilities as a dean and by my scholarly interests as an educational psychologist. When my two worlds — one as a dean, the other as a researcher – intersect, I find great satisfaction and renewed energy. So you can rest assured I will continue to advocate high-impact educational practices for every NC State student.

By CHASS Dean Jeff Braden