New Office of Student Research opens on campus
Launched this fall at the behest of the University Research Council, the Office of Student Research (OSR) aims to encourage and facilitate student research across campus. OSR is headed by Anthropology Professor Gina Hunter and is based in the third floor of Milner Library.
“I’m really excited to be in on the ground floor of something that will grow and become a much bigger entity on campus,” Hunter said. “Student research is very close to my heart because it’s certainly something that in anthropology we do.”
Hunter brings a broad range of experience to her role as OSR director. She spent 10 years participating in the Ethnography of the University Initiative at the University of Illinois, a cross-campus project founded by two anthropologists that fostered course-based student research. For the last two decades, Hunter has conducted ethnographic research in Brazil and taught at Illinois State where she has collaborated with her students on research like the Old Main Project, which examined oral histories and artifacts from the University’s first building.
“Anthropology is a four-field discipline that spans the hard sciences, biological science, to archaeology, to the humanities, and ethnographic methods. So I have a broad vision of what research means. And I teach ethnographic methods, so my own research informs my teaching and how I teach my classes.”
OSR will serve three main roles:
- Promote student research and creative expression on campus.
- Encourage and facilitate student participation in on- and off-campus research events and opportunities.
- Organize on-campus programming meant to encourage student interest in research and to foster networking among student and faculty researchers.
Hunter expects OSR to collaborate with on-campus research centers, like the Cross Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. OSR will also amplify and look to increase participation in the University’s two annual research events organized by the Graduate School: the University Research Symposium and the Three Minute Thesis competition.
“Since there is so much great work already happening at Illinois State, there is the opportunity here for synergy. This office will become a central place where connections can be made,” Hunter said. “This office can help put some of the existing pieces together—for example, take a workshop that’s really working in the College of Arts and Sciences and see if it’s something that could happen also in the College of Business or in the Mennonite College of Nursing.”
Though it is common at Illinois State for students to conduct research with professors, Hunter hopes to offer faculty more tools to help their students become research partners.
“They need different kinds of support, in terms of how to mentor undergraduates. Mentoring undergraduates is different than mentoring graduate students. Mentoring is different in the College of Fine Arts than it is in College of Business.”
The office will encourage faculty and students to take advantage of Illinois State’s institutional membership with the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR). “That’s a huge resource, and I think it’s underutilized,” Hunter said. “CUR offers numerous publications and resources for mentorship, for research opportunities, all kinds of things.”
Associate Vice President of Research and Graduate Studies John Baur initiated OSR.
“Research is a proven high-impact learning practice that engages students’ critical thinking. We know that having many research opportunities on campus attracts students to Illinois State and helps us retain them. A student’s research experience also helps them get jobs, it helps them get into graduate school,” Hunter said. “John knows that, and this is something that he’s seen that we need. Many other universities have similar offices.”
Student research offices are common on college campuses across the country. What is different about Illinois State’s center is the focus on undergraduate and graduate research. Many of the research centers emerged in the wake of a 1998 report by the Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University. The commission’s first recommendation was to make research-based learning the standard for undergraduates.
“Shortly after beginning my role as AVP for Research, I attended the Council on Undergraduate Research national conference in Washington,” Baur said. “It was immediately clear to me that, while ISU has many students engaged in research across campus, we were well behind other institutions in promoting research with students and prioritizing institutional support for those students. I was blown away by the way some institutions encouraged collaborations between students and faculty in all disciplines. I want to bring some of that energy to ISU, because it fits our mission exactly.”
While OSR is still in its infancy, there are many plans in the works. OSR and the Graduate School are launching a new research image contest, in which students will submit infographics, photography, and other imagery that best visualizes their research. Hunter has formed an advisory board comprising faculty, staff, and students from among the University’s colleges. The board will advise on how to best support student research across campus.
“With our Board and website in place, we can begin to develop the mission and vision off the office,” Hunter said. “We are creating a number of concrete objectives, and I’m excited about where we can go forward from here.”