CLAS Acts July 2017


The campus is relatively quiet during the summer months—a Boys Stater here, a conference goer there--but that also seems to be when the faculty Laker Effect goes global.  For instance, read what Erik Nordman has to say on renewable energy rather than coal plants in Kenya and Bopi Biddanda is making an international splash (couldn’t resist—after all, he did a deep dive) with his piece on the  freshwater carbon cycle .  Meanwhile, Jennifer Moore is appearing in a National Geographic video about her snake research.  If you like to keep up with news like this, I invite you to “like” the CLAS Facebook page

As you’d imagine, our office is still busy with closing out the fiscal year, working on contracts, reading proofs of our annual report, and making improvements to existing systems.  For instance, we are adding more keywords to aid the search for appropriate funds for our donors to support. 

Speaking of support, AWRI and the Regional Math and Science Center can take bows for being among the campus units that achieved 100% participation in the faculty/staff campaign.  Donors really like to know that the faculty and staff support the institution when they consider donating.  You’ll be hearing a great deal in coming weeks and months about the Laker Effect Campaign that the University has launched with a goal of $85M.

If you are still in the area, I’d like to point out that Science on Tap is bringing you two July events.  The first on July 6 is Why Would Russia Want To Interfere With Our Election Anyway? And then on July 13 Cannibals and Crazy Cows: The Propagating Prion Protein.  These are held at the SpeakEZ Lounge in Grand Rapids so you can listen and have an adult beverage.

And I’m delighted to report that the weather held out for our scholarship fundraiser golf scramble, CLAS on the Green.  The 58 golfers and many sponsors helped us raise about $8,500 for the CLAS Endowed Scholarship Fund.  A great crew of about a dozen faculty, staff and student volunteers helped us run this very successful event.  The whole organizing committee has my gratitude.

So we will hold the fort while you get on with your summer projects.  Don’t forget to send us word when you have cool news.

Already we’re looking forward to the year ahead, and part of that will be wishing our new Provost and colleague Maria Cimitile the very best as she begins her new assignment July 1.

Supplemental Research Funding for Involving Students with a Little Help from OURS

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in partnership with the Office of Undergraduate Research (OURS) funds a supplemental start up of $1,000 for first or second year tenure track faculty through an application process in winter or spring  The fund encourages new tenure-track faculty to actively engage undergraduate students in their research and scholarship.  To do this, there are often additional supply and research support costs.  This grant is offered to offset these startup costs and encourage new faculty to offer research opportunities to undergraduate students.

Many are familiar with the side-by-side research model in field and bench sciences, but wonder how this will work in the humanities or social sciences.  Taking that difference into consideration, another program allows for a different model. 

As the website explains,

In addition to student support, the program focuses on engaging and supporting faculty members in the humanities disciplines by providing a research assistant with no cost to the academic departments.

URA-Hs are student research assistants who work 8-10 hours per week for a faculty member in the humanities. URA-Hs conduct library database searches, assist with archival research, and write annotations and literature reviews. Positions are posted in the Fall on Laker Jobs. These are paid, work-study positions.

… The URA-H award is available to all tenure and tenure-track faculty in the Humanities.

Some of those who have made use of the program describe their experiences.

Bret Linford, Assistant Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures:

Having funds to work with an undergraduate student has been a great experience! As they say, it is one thing to know how to do something and another thing to be able to teach that skill. My own understanding of the research process has been improved by working with the research assistant. As I have worked with my research assistant, I have had a great opportunity to reflect on my research methods. And it has been quite satisfying to see the student come from knowing very little about the research topic and how to conduct a scholarly research project, to being able to actively participate in the research project and think critically about various issues related to the project. Finally, having the student research assistant has helped me to stay focused on research during the regular semesters when things tend to get busy and it becomes tempting to neglect research.

David Zwart, Assistant Professor of History:

I benefited by having a student who helped me in a number of ways.

  • I was able to discuss the primary source research with someone who was reading the same kind of sources I was. This was probably the first time I had extended conversations with someone who read the same kinds of sources I have been reading for 10 years. She read them a bit differently than I, but that helped me see them in new ways.
  • I used the research notes from my research assistant of the primary sources in at least two conference paper presentations that are being developed into published articles and chapters. She really provided me some valuable help to move my research forward.

I would urge others to consider using undergraduate research assistants if they have a clearly defined task they want assistance with. When I told my research assistant exactly what to read for and how to do a very defined task, she excelled and I benefitted the most. “


Paul Murphy, Professor of History:

I worked with Jalen Benton, a senior business student from Seidman.  I asked him to help me research an encyclopedia article entitled "The U.S. in the 1920s" for the Oxford Reference Encyclopedia online.  I anticipated asking my student to compile an up-to-date bibliography, scour the net for images and cool websites, and track down certain primary sources in a 1920s periodical.  When I hired a senior business major, I was struck by his competence in economic and business research, and we immediately turned to another item on my agenda -- figuring out what happened to the economy in the 1920s (a vexed topic, and one in which I am unfamiliar with the economic literature).  While Jalen did do some bibliography work for me and helpfully pushed me to use Google Docs, he spend the bulk of his time researching the economic history of the 1920s.  I am not sure he was able to answer this question, but he worked through the digital Statistical Abstract of the U.S. and pulled a lot of data for me and made helpful graphs.  I hope to use some in the article.  He did some reading, we read together an introductory account of the economics of the era, and we talked about them.  While I am not sure we figured out the answer of the causes of the Depression, working with Jalen prodded me to start thinking through these issues and dip my toe in the economics literature (which is vast and perplexing).  As it is, I am working on the article now, and just about ready to go through carefully all the material Jalen collected.  I plan to acknowledge his assistance in a note in the article. 

Working with student researchers like Jalen is a wonderful and stimulating experience; I encourage humanities and social science professors to submit proposals.

The success of these programs, Supplemental Startup funding and the Undergraduate Research Assistant in the Humanities (URA-H), has led to an expansion of the supplemental funds intended for tenured faculty.  In the case of these mid and later career faculty, the $1,000 infusion of funds may be used to launch sabbatical work, pivot into a new research area or develop a project further so that it will include students.  Also anticipated is a program similar to the URA-H for the social sciences.

Susan Mendoza of OURS credits Richard Lord (Chemistry) for the idea of supplemental funding.  She explains that it is her goal to strip away the barriers and the red tape for faculty and students to work together.  CLAS will continue to work with Susan to bring about the expansion of these successful programs.

We recommend that you keep an eye on the OURS website for updates and deadlines.