Faculty-student collaboration soars with pathways project

Mount Mercy has always prided itself on its teacher- scholars, a group of individuals equally committed to teaching in their discipline and to mentoring and helping students engage in research opportunities. A result of the student faculty interaction is that students often develop a stronger connection with Mount Mercy and with faculty in their major.

“At a school like Mount Mercy University, it is the relationships that develop between students and faculty that keep students coming back the next year,” says Assistant Professor of Psychology Dennis Dew, Ph.D. “It has been well documented that undergraduate students who engage in research with a faculty member become more invested in learning and are more likely to stay at the institution than those who do not.”

The concept of faculty-student joint scholarship is endorsed by President Christopher Blake and the Board of Trustees. In fact, as part of Mount Mercy’s re-accreditation process with the Higher Learning Commission, the institution was chosen in 2009–10 as one of 14 institutions nationwide to participate in the Pathways Construction Project to develop a new model for re-accreditation. As part of that process, Mount Mercy will develop a quality initiative project intended to strengthen faculty and student scholarship collaboration.

The first aspect of Mount Mercy’s three-year Pathways to Scholarship Project began in Fall 2010 and aims to further encourage a culture of scholarship on campus and promote both on- and off-campus the scholarship efforts of faculty and students. Collaborative research teams will be formed to provide structure and support for faculty-student research. In addition, faculty will be given the opportunity to meet periodically with small groups of colleagues to provide support for each other’s scholarship activities. Toward the end of each project year, Mount Mercy faculty and students will be encouraged to participate in a Scholarship Festival by presenting, displaying work or attending the annual event.

The Pathways Project is a welcome addition to Mount Mercy’s growing commitment to scholarship. Three years ago, Provost John Marsden, Ph.D., started a Summer Scholarship Award Program to recognize faculty who had been engaging in scholarship outside of the contract year and to encourage others to pursue scholarship. Beginning in 2011, the Summer Scholarship Award Program will include an emphasis on faculty-student scholarship across disciplines, much like Professor Dew’s academic connection with Travis Voss, a psychology major from Cedar Rapids.

Teaming with Dew, Voss spent Summer 2010 delving into the field of psychology that examines the thought process that occurs when people answer sensitive questions on surveys, especially questions that might have certain answers that are more socially acceptable than others. Voss believes that the collaboration with Dew has prepared him for other psychology classes and for a future position in the field. In addition to building his skills and portfolio, Voss enjoyed the camaraderie and fellowship he established with his mentor.

“What I enjoy the most about working with Dr. Dew is that I am allowed to work as an equal alongside him, which I accept as a privilege, and I have tried to absorb all the information that we have talked about and worked on,” says Voss. “Being able to work on a research project with him has helped me learn new things, and I am proud to be the one that will help him finish this project.”

Jan Handler, Ed.D., associate provost, and Melody Graham, Ph.D., dean of graduate studies, are leading the Pathways to Scholarship Project and expect positive results for both faculty and students. “We anticipate increased sharing on campus and with more widespread audiences of the diverse scholarly pursuits in which Mount Mercy faculty are engaged,” says Handler. “More students will be able to present their work at professional conferences along with faculty mentors, and prospective students seeking a campus with an active undergraduate research program are more likely to find our enhanced opportunities for involvement with faculty mentors attractive as well.”

“Working with a faculty member on a research project uncovering something exciting that was not previously known can be a rewarding learning experience that can foster a lifelong learning attitude,” says Dew. “In the classroom, students may work on their own research projects, but students who work with faculty get to see first-hand how an expert thinks about a problem and goes about researching, testing, investigating, and solving a problem. When it comes to work as difficult as learning how to perform scholarly research, there is no substitute for hands-on participation.”

Voss agrees that the collaboration has been beneficial to his understanding of psychology and has likely made him a more marketable job candidate. “It is a great hands-on way of diving into a specific field of study or multiple fields. You learn qualities that can help you get a job after college and it always helps to have a little bit of experience to show that you are devoted to your field of study.”