How does a university foster community engagement through its research activity, while simultaneously focusing on student learning outcomes? For Arkansas State University, these goals are accomplished through internal awards and various symposia specifically for undergraduate students.
Their premier program, Create @ State, is a year-long initiative that pairs students with faculty mentors to engage in research and creative activity, culminating in a 2-day symposium of poster presentations and performances. Judges for the symposium are alumni (including former Create @ State awardees), community leaders, and industry partners who review the entries online before coming to the on-campus event. Projects are grouped by discipline, ranging from basic science and business pitches, to arts performances and humanities exhibits.
In a recent webinar, Emily Devereaux (Executive Director of Research and Technology Transfer) shared her office’s best practices for facilitating this program.
- Use your resources. Emily partners with colleagues in development and community engagement to recruit judges for the program: “Smart resourcing includes leveraging of campus expertise. We couldn’t do it alone in our research office.”
- Have a one-stop shop. Students, faculty, and staff know that InfoReady Review™ is the place to go for all research development programs. “You need one site for communication and opportunity searches...whether it is to submit to competitions or register for events that you manage.”
- Simplify the application form. “Students and community partners will start to shy away from complicated and manual processes.” The Create @ State application includes questions relevant for judges and administrators facilitating the symposium. The review form is structured to gather constructive feedback that can then be shared with students after the event.
- Prep your judges. A few weeks before the symposium, assign judges as reviewers to the appropriate applications so they can review the materials before coming to campus. “We assign the judges in bulk so that they get one email with the abstracts that they’ve been assigned to, along with an upload of the judging rubric and judging form.”
- Make multipurpose notifications. As applications are accepted, add language to the email message so students can use it for excused absence approval for the symposium. During decision time, include reviewers’ feedback in both the award and reject notifications to share constructive criticism. “[Notifications have] provided more purposeful assessment for student learning objectives, as it eliminates the administrative burden of having to manually send feedback...and the students are able to access it in real time.
- Dive in to your data. As Emily notes, “We all know how manual reporting can be a burden.” Having a single repository for research activity with the ability to download multiple reports allows for comparative and formative assessment year after year. Having this data easily accessible can help justify funding increases and program enhancements that benefit students.