Posted on September 2, 2008 by Tia Lalani

When the winter semester ends, the real research begins.

Big Mentorship on a Small Campus: Undergraduate Research Assistantships at Augustana
By Lindsay J. Hartman
When the winter semester ends, the real research begins. It is during the summer months that faculty members have the greatest opportunity to devote themselves to research projects, and a handful of undergraduate students at Augustana Campus have been fortunate enough to become involved in the projects as research assistants. 
A professor dedicated to her research and her students, Dr. Roxanne Harde has to date employed four undergraduate research assistants, and deems their work to have been “uniformly high quality.” Her office brimming with research on exciting topics ranging from Elizabeth Stuart Phelps to Bruce Springsteen, it is apparent that Dr. Harde’s research assistants would not have had a chance to be bored. Dr. Harde’s engagement in the multitude of projects is matched by the enthusiasm and hard work of her research assistants. Heather van Pypen, one of Dr. Harde’s research assistants, was immensely pleased to have had such an opportunity. “I learned a lot about the actual research process,” she comments.


In contrast to Dr. Harde, Dr. Roger Milbrandt was in unfamiliar territory when working with his research assistant, Dylan McConnell, this summer. Dr. Milbrandt was pleasantly surprised that their application for the Roger S. Smith Undergraduate Student Researcher Award was successful. The funding was put to great use; Dr. Milbrandt employed McConnell to assist in researching the income of George Gissing, a very specialized subject. 
Dr. Milbrandt suggests that having a research assistant positively influenced his writing. “It actually, I think, forced me to a higher level of conscientiousness.” 
The work of research assistants is invaluable, as it allows professors to focus on their craft and produce their projects more quickly. For both Dr. Harde and Dr. Milbrandt, the end goal is to have their work published, and their research assistants are helping them to realize that goal.
Although most institutions employ graduate students as research assistants, Dr. Harde recognizes the benefits of undergraduate research assistants. “I do not have to share their intellectual engagement with their own research,” Dr. Harde quips. Her passion for the research program extends beyond the benefit of getting more work done in a short period of time. “The greater benefits tend to be far more in terms of supporting the profession and my pedagogical and emotional needs to mentor.”
It is apparent that van Pypen gained more than knowledge of research techniques from Dr. Harde.  “It actually helped because I was very lost before summer started and now I think I have a fairly good idea of where I want to go.” 


McConnell, who is now applying to graduate programs for next fall, also considers himself better prepared for what lies ahead. “I have learned that being patient, paying close attention to detail, and thinking outside the box are all critical tools that will bring me much success in my future academic endeavours.”
The opportunity to be employed as a research assistant during undergraduate studies is rare, as most of the large institutions focus funding on the graduate students. However, at Augustana Campus, undergraduate students are being given the chance to take their education to the next level.
As for the professors, it is clear that Dr. Harde will continue to employ and mentor strong undergraduate students. Regarding his experience with an undergraduate research assistant, Dr. Milbrandt comments, “I’d be happy to repeat the experience.”

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