College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences unveils Undergraduate Research Institute

BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 4, 2006 – The College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech will mark the opening of the college’s Undergraduate Research Institute on Thursday, Sept. 7, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. in the Multipurpose Room at the Graduate Life Center at Donaldson Brown.

“This initiative shows that we are dedicated to undergraduate research,” said Jerry Niles, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “We formed an undergraduate research faculty committee back in 2005, and under the direction of Diana Ridgwell, our director of student development, we have moved quickly to put this opportunity into place for our undergraduates and our faculty.”

While the primary benefits for undergraduates are refined inquiry skills and an enhanced resume, the Undergraduate Research Institute will also help students understand how research differs across disciplines. The institute will hold workshops in quantitative, qualitative, combined, and creative approaches to research. Many services will also be web-based, including a database of available research opportunities – one that matches college faculty with potential student researchers.

“It has been documented that undergraduate research increases students’ ability to think, learn, and work independently,” said Ridgwell. “Research also strengthens oral and written communication skills, and sharpens critical thinking. In addition, students gain confidence and often find a faculty mentor.”

But it’s a win-win situation for both students and faculty. Faculty members not only gain assistance with current research projects, but they are able to foster positive learning experiences with students and generate excitement and interest in their discipline. They can also help students contribute new knowledge to a field.

Peter Wallenstein, professor of history at Virginia Tech, has encouraged and utilized undergraduate research for years.

“My students' work has made its way into--and has been cited in--my book on Marshall Hahn's presidency of Virginia Tech as well as other publications,” said Wallenstein. “Various undergraduates have presented their work at the annual conference of the Virginia Social Science Association and elsewhere, and one of these students published an article in the Virginia Social Science Journal.”

Arguably one of the most comprehensive undergraduate research programs at the university, the new institute in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences will offer small grants (from $300-$1,000) for undergraduates and their mentors to obtain books or computer programs they need for their research projects or to travel to conferences to present their work. Liberal Arts and Human Sciences students have already shown a great interest in undergraduate research, with 27 percent of those presenting at last year’s university-wide Undergraduate Student Research conference hailing from liberal arts and human sciences disciplines.

Members of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Undergraduate Research Faculty Committee include Gena Chandler (English), Bradley Hertel (Sociology), Kee Jeong Kim (Human Development), Ridgwell, and Wallenstein.

The institute will be physically located in 232 Wallace Hall, with advising hours on Monday and Thursday afternoons (1 to 3:30 p.m.) and by appointment. The web site may be accessed