The Value of Research

Provost Steven Lerman tours exhibits by undergraduate research fellows.
March 31, 2011

GW undergraduate research fellows share their work at a poster presentation and luncheon March 30.

Seniors Sally Nuamah’s and Chloe Shields’ interests have taken them to different parts of the globe during their four years at GW. But as freshman roommates in Madison Hall, they shared one common bond: research.

“We realized that we were both interested in exploring certain questions about issues that were important to us,” said Ms. Nuamah. “So we decided that before we graduated, we’d take advantage of opportunities at GW and abroad to further investigate these questions. Through all these experiences, we discovered what research is.”

On March 30, Ms. Nuamah and Ms. Shields presented their respective research projects along with 34 other Luther Rice Collaborative, George Gamow and Office of the Vice President for Research undergraduate research fellows at a celebration in GW’s Marvin Center.

Joined by their GW faculty mentors, the students enjoyed a luncheon, followed by a poster presentation of their work.

Paul Hoyt-O’Connor, director of GW’s Center for Undergraduate Fellowships and Research, noted the remarkable array of disciplines represented at the poster sessions, including projects in psychology, political science, computer science and dance.

“It was wonderful to see on display the work of our undergraduate research fellows,” he said. “The fellow programs demonstrate GW’s ongoing commitment to providing some of our best students with strong, mentored research experiences.”

GW Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa called the enthusiasm and knowledge demonstrated by the students “nothing short of amazing.”

“It was a joy to behold,” he said. “No matter what careers these students eventually pursue, I am certain that their research experience at GW will prove beneficial for a lifetime.”

At the luncheon, Steve Lerman, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, spoke about his own undergraduate research experience at MIT and the opportunities it provided him as a student. He says undergraduate research is an area of “personal passion” for him and one he plans to expand at GW.

“What’s fascinating is the range of topics [the fellows] are all engaged in,” said Dr. Lerman. “I think it’s emblematic of a ‘spirit of inquiry’—that we’re curious about so many different things and these undergraduates have the opportunity to explore those under the mentorship of a faculty member.”

“I think it’s crucially important that we grow the research movement at GW,” he added.

An international environmental resources major in GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs, Ms. Shields spent her junior year in the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil and in Denmark to research the evaluation of socio-environmental indicators for transboundary river basin management.

She said undergraduate research has been an important part of her time at GW and is an experience that GW students are increasingly pursuing.

“I’ve been able to leverage my own research in applying for jobs and will leverage in the future in graduate school,” said Ms. Shields. “Sally and I both feel that undergraduate research is really important and is an area that’s strengthening at GW.”

Ms. Nuamah, a political science major and Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship recipient, traveled to Ghana in 2009 and 2010 for her project, which focused on the determinants of academic success for disadvantaged, low-income and single-parent female students in Ghana. She said research is a valuable alternative method of learning.

“Research was a substantive part of my GW experience,” she said, “and I hope it becomes more ingrained in the culture here.”

Paul Duff, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences associate dean for undergraduate studies, says that undergraduate research enables students to expand their minds in ways that aren’t possible in the classroom and build new relationships with faculty members.

“When an undergraduate works with a faculty member on a problem, he or she becomes less a student and more a colleague,” he said. “Together student and faculty member work to create new knowledge. I can think of no better preparation for today’s knowledge-based economy.”

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