A Classroom Opportunity

New Frontiers

At many universities, cutting edge research is the exclusive purview of Ph.D.s and their doctoral and post-doc students. At UNK, undergraduate chemistry students have had opportunities to work in the pro-ject and handle high-level assignments.

Students working on the solar cell pro-ject have gained experience in UV-vis, infrared and Raman spectroscopy as well as spectroscopic ellipsometry.

The concept of students being involved in research is not new in the chemistry de-partment. In fact, several students in the chemistry department have been employed to work in projects other than the solar cell project. The goal is to give the students a chance to apply what they learn in class and develop impressive laboratory skills.

Over the past decade, scientific com-missions and academic publications have called for changes to undergraduate edu-cation. Lecture based education where students have minimal interaction with faculty created an environment where students were not developing important skills such as critical thinking.

In an article entitled “Undergraduate Research: Needed More Today Than Ever Before,” John Mateja, president of the Council on Undergraduate Research and the chair of the American Physical Society’s Committee on Education, pointed out that the U.S. has one of the strongest systems of graduate education sitting atop a troub-led system of undergraduate education. By engaging students in learning through independent scholarly activities, we would enable students to take control of their education, apply their skills in unpredic-table environments, and become the “inno-vators, critical thinkers, and problem solvers this nation will require.”

The UNK Chemistry department embr-aced this thinking several years ago by adopting a graduate school model for undergraduate education. Faculty members each have research groups, where stu-dents participate in faculty projects and work on their own related research. This approach forms communities of scholars who challenge and support each other, learn from each other, and develop skills necessary for success in graduate school and professional life.