Cs the Undergraduate Research Zeitgeist

Undergraduate research is a hot topic in higher education today, and for very good reason. Undergraduate research helps students engage their disciplines, apply their skills, and become members of the active research community. While UR is nothing new in the natural sciences and is gaining growing traction in the social sciences, it’s much trickier in the humanities.

Which is why the first Undergraduate Research poster session at last week’s Conference on College Composition and Communication was so important. (check out the tweet stream using the hashtag #4c12)

PWR Senior Mary Kate Hinshaw presents her Honors research on text messaging at CCCC.

Officially titled A Gateway to Professionalization: An Undergraduate Researcher Poster Session, the  session represented the first time the largest rhetoric/composition conference in the country really called attention to undergraduates and their work in the discipline. Sure, undergrads have presented at Cs before, but this session was different. The session was spearheaded by Elon colleague and Cs Executive Committee member Jessie Moore as well as two other Elon PWR faculty (me and Paula Rosinski) and two Elon PWR students (Victoria Doose and Mary Kate Hinshaw). A Call for Posters was sent well after the official Cs proposal deadline inviting faculty members to help their students who are doing valuable undergraduate research in the discipline to submit for the session.

Nine students the presented posters at the conference in St. Louis, posters that were proudly displayed right outside the ballroom where the Opening Session of the conference was held. Thousand of teachers of writing from around the country and from community colleges, SLACs, and Research colleges saw the posters, and many stopped to talk to the students about their research. Students presented on a wide range of topics including writing center research, text messaging, and technical documents. They were smart, articulate, and engaged with their audience. It was so fun to be a part of this session. I heard many attendees express excitement about the possibilities of getting their students involved in the poster session and undergraduate research in general.

Perspectives on Undergraduate Research and Mentoring (PURM), an online journal for which I serve as managing editor and student Victoria Doose serves as editorial assistant, also sponsored the session to bring attention to the  roles mentors play in students’ development and the roles students play in helping faculty members see the discipline through fresh eyes. PURM offers mentors and mentees the opportunity to publish, not their research which can be published in disciplinary venues, but commentaries about their experiences with research and mentorship to help build the community and to share knowledge. As I was walking around the poster session

Working on this poster session really reinforced for me the work we do in CUPID – providing opportunities for students to engage the discipline, Professional Writing and Rhetoric, whether it’s through service-learning, client projects, or undergraduate research opportunities. In the future, I’d like to see CUPID projects inspire more undergraduate research in PWR. I’ll have to start planning how to do that soon! Hopefully we’ll see more Elon and CUPID students at that poster session next year.

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