“Undergraduate students in our science programs aren’t learning by rote; they’re creating their own knowledge,” says Chris Keys, a professor in the psychology department, discussing DePaul Discoveries, the recently published collection of 44 scholarly articles by undergraduate researchers.
“Through original research, our students are learning to see science as a whole process, from conceiving an idea, through planning and conducting an experiment, to analyzing the data and sharing their findings with the community. The work in DePaul Discoveries is thoughtful enough and polished enough to be worthy of publication: It’s been held to a very high standard.”
Mona Shattell, associate dean for research and faculty development in the College of Science and Health, associate professor in the School of Nursing, and the editor-in-chief of DePaul Discoveries, agrees: “To be published in the journal, a paper has to be scholarly, rigorous and well-written. At the same time, this is a great learning opportunity for our undergraduate students in science, so a lot of people have a hand in helping the authors prepare the best papers possible.”
Every paper is reviewed by faculty and student editors; their comments and suggestions inform subsequent drafts. Each student also has a faculty mentor who encourages the student’s project and supervises the work.
“The students are gung-ho and all in,” says Keys. “Their enthusiasm and hard work are inspiring.” As a result, the 300-page, two-volume (2011-12 and 2012-13) publication is an impressive piece of scholarship. In fact, Keys contends that DePaul Discoveries “takes undergraduate student research to a rare level of professionalism and sophistication.”
One of the published authors — Fiacha Heneghan (BS ’14) — used a grant from the Undergraduate Summer Research Program to work with a student research partner, Ashley Sliva, on permutations, a topic within combinatorics, a branch of mathematics concerning the study of finite or countable discrete structures.
“We met all summer, usually twice a week,” says Heneghan. “I think a lot of our best work came from messing around with the problem, collaboratively.” Together, the students (both math majors) discovered a permutation not listed in the Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences. Their findings can be found in “Max-Min Up-Down Permutations” (faculty advisor, T. Kyle Petersen). Heneghan also presented the research at the 2012 Natural Sciences, Mathematics & Technology Showcase.
Kathryn Rico (BS ’13) considers participating in research to be her “biggest accomplishment at DePaul, hands down. Environmental science programs typically don’t give students research experiences, so my work here is very unusual in my field, and I expect it to give me a leg up in my grad school applications.”
For 18 months, Rico (photo above) examined sediment in the Prairie Wolf Slough Wetland. Her faculty mentor, James Montgomery, an associate professor in the environmental science and studies department, had noticed that more phosphorous was leaving the wetland waters than entering, which is the opposite of what one would expect. He put Rico on the case, and she published her findings in DePaul Discoveries (“A Characterization of Marsh Sediment at Prairie Wolf Slough Wetland”).
“Research benefits students in so many ways,” Shattell says. “They work closely with faculty, they learn what science is all about, and they get excited about science in a tangible way. Just as important, being published gives them standing among professional scholars. Early in my career, I learned that if you don’t you write up your research, it’s not done; if you don’t share your research, it doesn’t matter.”
In 2014, DePaul Discoveries will become an online journal.
“The printed version is wonderful, but its reach is limited,” explains Shattell. “Once we move to electronic publishing, the whole journal — every article and every author — will be searchable: When someone Googles a student’s name, his or her article will pop up. Only a few, select colleges publish anything like DePaul Discoveries. But this next step — that’s truly cutting-edge.”