Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Undergraduate research: challenges for research-active faculty

In a recent post I wrote about the value of undergraduate research. The topic is not new and has been discussed in many venues over many years. For example, in August of 2003 an Undergraduate Research Summit was held at Bates College, Lewiston, Maine. Funded by the Chemistry Division of the National Science Foundation and co-organized by Prof. Thomas Wenzel (Chemistry Department, Bates College) and Dr. Robert Lichter (Merrimack Consultants LLC), the summit consisted of discussions initiated by a number of white papers. A full report of the summit was disseminated and discussed at a number of American Chemical Society National Meetings.

Prof. John Stevens (Chemistry Department, University of North Carolina at Asheville) and I co-authored a piece on "Generating Research Ideas" for the summit and report. Are the views expressed in this seven-year-old white paper still relevant? Indeed, does the entire report still offer a useful perspective on the challenges associated with undergraduate research?

Incidentally, let me take this opportunity to congratulate Tom Wenzel on receiving the 2010 American Chemical Society Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution.

The National Research Council seeks comment on K-12 science education standards

The National Research Council would like comments from the public by August 2, 2010, on a draft framework for K-12 science education. According to the news release:

"The National Research Council today released a draft framework that proposes the science content and concepts students should learn for grades K-12.  The independent, nonprofit Research Council is seeking comment on the draft from the science and education communities and the public.  The final framework will serve as the basis for new science education standards, to replace those based on documents developed over 10 years ago."

Please consider contributing to the debate.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Remarks delivered at Lewis & Clark's Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony - May 8, 2010

The seniors among you are graduating at a time when financial institutions, large companies, and even entire countries are in crisis; an economic crisis that will be felt around the world for many years. So the juniors among you will face the same challenges a year from now that your senior colleagues are about to face now. The world is going through rapid change, and you must be wondering how you will cope with so much change. But I’d like to convince you that you already learned how to cope with change.

Some years ago you had just accepted Lewis & Clark’s offer of admission to its College of Arts & Sciences, and you began to contemplate change: the move away from home to a new school, where you would make new friends and work with professors intent on opening your eyes to new ways of learning and thinking. A few months later, you came to Palatine Hill and major change became inevitable and immediate. Before you could blink an eye, you were reading and critiquing texts you once thought intractable, working with faculty mentors on research projects, creating art. You were changing, and rapidly. Four years have gone by and the seniors among you now must face change yet again: the move away from this school to a new home, new friends and colleagues—some perhaps intent on opening your eyes to new ways of thinking.

I am a chemist, accustomed to visualizing change at the atomic and molecular levels. But the change you experienced then and are about to experience now cannot be rationalized by the postulates of quantum mechanics or the laws of thermodynamics, of which chemists are so fond. So let’s look for inspiration elsewhere.

Theologian Richard Hooker warns that “Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better.” It follows that embracing change is essential, even when change causes temporary unease. Such is the nature of the changes you will experience when entering graduate or professional school, starting a new job or career, or making a particularly difficult decision affecting you or others.

Philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell takes us further by telling us that “Change is one thing, progress is another.” That is, movement along a carefully defined trajectory is the kind of change that will be meaningful and joyful to you and those with whom you are sharing your life.

Finally, Victor Hugo, poet, novelist, and playwright, asks you, as do I, to “Change your opinions, keep to your principles.” As you collect experiences, your perspectives on everything, from politics to religion, can and will likely change, even if slightly. But these changes will only “feel right” if they do not erode an ethical foundation that, by now, should be sufficiently strong to give you the instincts you will need to make good and fair decisions.

I have great confidence that you, Lewis & Clark students and members of Phi Beta Kappa, have the intellectual skills and motivation to engage any issue and lead any conversation, no matter how society changes. I know that the seniors among you will make yourselves, your family, and the College proud as you begin your new lives beyond Palatine Hill. As for the juniors in the audience, Lewis & Clark’s faculty and staff look forward to continuing our work with you next year.

Thank you and Peace to all.

Charge to the Class of 2010 - Lewis & Clark College, College of Arts & Sciences - May 9, 2010

Graduates—and you are now graduates—you were trained in the tradition of the liberal arts to understand the socio-economic, political, and technological contexts of the problems humanity faces. You are poised to find solutions that affirm human rights, protect the environment, raise—and then stabilize—standards of living across the globe. But to capitalize on this opportunity to find solutions you must waste no time to think of ways in which to make a positive impact on the communities you will join.

I have been a member of many communities, each unique in many respects. But I have observed that communities that function well and make progress toward solving problems and achieving their goals have at least these features in common: they value the skills and opinions of their members, and they are willing and ready to change—sometimes rather significantly—in response to challenges and opportunities originating from within or without.

Whenever I contemplate my role in a community, I am reminded of an unexpected and beautiful experience. Many years ago I attended a conference in New Orleans. After a wonderful lunch in the French Quarter—it is nearly impossible to have a bad meal in New Orleans—I had a bit of time before the next lecture and began walking toward Jackson Square. There I was quickly drawn to a band playing Dixieland. The leader, a wonderful clarinetist who also sang beautifully, was obviously in control of the group, calling the songs and signaling the soloists. But the group changed almost constantly: a tuba player left (perhaps to go back to work), a guitarist joined in midsong, the band was sometimes a quintet, sometimes a rather large ensemble. Yet, the music was always rich and soulful, like good jazz always is.

In my opinion, a strong community should function like this band of street musicians did. So, as you leave Lewis & Clark and join another community—law, medical, or graduate school, a commercial or not-for-profit organization, and so on—I ask you to consider the following advice.

First, do not forget that you will remain a member of the Lewis & Clark community. Yes, like every productive community, we will change—sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly—but we will remain true to our educational mission. And we will always be ready to help you when we can.

Second, and very importantly, consider becoming a bit like the guitarist who steps in and, working together with other musicians, somehow compensates for the absent tuba player. Follow the lead of those you trust to lead, but improvise when necessary. Indeed, good leaders cultivate and reward creativity. And when called to lead, do so.

Finally, and above all, help your community thrive just as a good clarinetist or guitarist can make the sounds of a jazz band richer and more soulful.

Making and helping others make informed decisions about the future of your new communities will be a tribute to your professors, your family, and—very importantly—to your hard work at Lewis & Clark over the last few years. In this task I wish you clarity of thought, patience, perseverance, and, above all, peace.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

International education at Lewis & Clark College

The 2009 edition of OPEN DOORS, published annually by the Institute of International Education, ranks Lewis & Clark College 4th for Baccalaureate Institutions sending students on mid-length duration overseas programs (one semester) and 11th for long-term duration overseas programs (full-year.) In the latter category we missed being in the top 10 by 3 students! For more information, please see:


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Undergraduate research at Lewis & Clark College, part 7 - Literature

Collaborative research with undergraduates in the humanities--often characterized as difficult to do properly because most scholars in the humanities tend to work in isolation--is not only possible but can lead to important achievements. An example is the ongoing collaboration between Lewis & Clark College's Prof. John Callahan and Prof. Adam Bradley, now at the University of Colorado, Boulder, but once an undergraduate at Lewis & Clark.