Chemical engineering major Jennifer Callaghan is spending her summer on the NJIT campus working to help define the next generation of ballistic materials. Laura Gould, an architecture student, is also at the university during the summer break, using Google Street View to study the correlation between urban infrastructure and the use and creation of sacred space in Italy.
As NJIT researchers, as well as Albert Dorman Honors College (ADHC) scholars, both Gould and Callaghan are participating in the inaugural Honors Summer Research Institute. The eight-week program, launched in early June, promotes interdisciplinary collaboration between Honors College students who are engaged in on-campus research during the summer. Through regular meetings and discussions moderated by ADHC faculty and staff, it also introduces them to peer review, fosters presentation and communication skills, and provides instruction in perfecting presentations and writing concisely.
“We have essentially three rounds of student presentations with peer review and feedback,” said Kyle Dobiszewski, associate director of accelerated programs and research initiatives at the Honors College. “The data and some of the educational research has shown that peer review is a more effective means than getting what some students would consider criticism from a faculty-type moderator.
“This isn’t a class. They aren’t graded. It’s really a value-added experience for students that are doing summer research,” he added.
To take part in the institute, students had to undergo a competitive proposal and review process. Most students are sophomores and nine are recipients of $2,500 stipends from the Dean’s Fund for Student Development; three other participants are being funded by the Provost Summer Research Fellowship.
“It’s really amazing,” remarked Callaghan about the chance to conduct research as an undergraduate. “I didn’t think I would ever have an opportunity like this…so early on in college. I hope to make a lot of progress in regard to my research and just gain some experience working in a lab and working with other people.”
Gould agrees. As she put it, “I love to do this kind of work, and I'm so grateful that I can get feedback on it. I plan to do similar architectural research during the rest of my college experience and hopefully also in my career.”
The Honors Summer Research Institute is just one component of a new ADHC research pathway that includes granting students course credit for reaching Honors College research milestones, such as filing a patent with a faculty member, crafting a peer-reviewed manuscript that gets accepted for publication, working on an Undergraduate Research and Innovation Phase II team, and, of course, engaging in the institute. Involvement in the Research Experience for Undergraduates program and the McNair Summer Research Institute at NJIT also qualify.
The course STS 205: Introduction to Research Methods initiates the research pathway. Dobiszewski taught the course this past spring in collaboration with other faculty and staff — Associate Professor of Physics Camelia Prodan, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering Vivek Kumar, Professor and Honors College Dean Louis Hamilton and Davida Scharf from the Robert W. Van Houten Library — and received good feedback from students about the content, which focuses on problem-based learning and proposal preparation.
“It would be great if we can get students really interested in research early, get them working with a faculty member, so that by the time they are a senior they are making significant contributions to the overall project…and [will] possibly stay on as a graduate student,” noted Dobiszewski. “The overarching goal of the research pathway and undergraduate research in general is that we want students to be excited about the work that they’re doing. There’s a lot of research that excitement with an undergraduate research project directly correlates to persistence to a degree for STEM students. Really, we want students to have some sense of ownership of the project they’re working on…and we want them to have fun.”