Goal 1: Enhance Student Success
Strategy 1.2: Expand and Promote Opportunities for Students to Engage in Research and Active Learning
It is widely recognized that students who actively participate in research tend to be more fully involved in their educational experience, and those experiences are often life-changing and/or career-modifying. This is especially relevant for undergraduate students who are in the formative stages of career exploration and discovery. Penn State annually has several thousand undergraduate students engaged in research—some working as paid employees in research labs/institutes/centers, others volunteering their time to participate with faculty and graduate students on a wide variety of projects, and still others who engage in research in capstone experiences as part of their academic majors. Faculty members who have included undergraduates in research activities are nearly always surprised at the level of contribution these students can make. Although many more students would willingly participate in research, and more faculty members would be delighted to accommodate them, the process by which such faculty-student connections are made often tends to be ad hoc. Penn State must expand current efforts to disseminate information about research opportunities for students and provide additional incentives for faculty to participate with undergraduate students, as well as foster more capstone experiences for students.
Students who participate in professional internship and co-op experiences are also aided significantly in their career decision making and workforce readiness. Internships and co-ops also represent important opportunities for prospective employers to evaluate students as future employees, and job offers often follow from organizations in which students have interned. Students are increasingly interested in pursuing internships and co-ops.
Such experiences are one way in which nonacademic careers for graduate students can be encouraged and supported. This approach is embraced in some fields (e.g., engineering and math) but it is unfortunately discouraged in others. Penn State should strive to provide graduate students with skills that will serve them well should they explore careers outside the academy.
Currently, many exemplary internship/co-op programs are arranged through various colleges and campuses, where faculty and staff match students with opportunities, oversee their internship/co-op experiences, and help students adjust to their academic schedules and remain on track toward graduation. Yet much more remains to be done. Academic units must introduce greater program flexibility to better accommodate the internship experience, while we actively seek to arrange more internships and co-ops for undergraduate and graduate students.Insufficient financial resources can be a barrier to participation in unpaid or low-paying opportunities for students who could benefit greatly from such experiences but must earn enough to maintain their enrollment. In addition, little communication or coordination among internship and co-op programs take place across units; better communication could benefit students beyond the confines of any individual program, college, or campus. Information about current programs must be gathered, analyzed, and more widely disseminated, and Career Services in the Division of Student Affairs could be an important partner in coordinating and publicizing such opportunities.
Finally, a considerable body of research indicates that students who are more engaged in public scholarship and service learning are more successful in their college experiences and upon graduation are more likely to be engaged citizens in their communities. Opportunities to participate in public scholarship, service learning, and co-curricular experiences encourage the development of leadership and decision-making skills. These learning opportunities help to reinforce connections across the curriculum and co-curriculum and encourage application of learning to communities that may not be otherwise encountered in the educational experience. Penn State’s own surveys indicate that students are very interested and wish to participate in such activities. The University must provide more opportunities to engage graduate and undergraduate students.