by Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler
Can participation in undergraduate research help to facilitate sustained, collaborative and multi-disciplinary partnerships between students and faculty mentors, as well as partnerships that extend beyond the institutional walls?  At a recent workshop sponsored by the Council for Undergraduate Research (CUR) and the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) preceding the ISSOTL 2014 Conference in Quebec City, presenters and attendees considered this and other interesting questions with implicit connections to the CEL Seminar on Mentoring Excellence in Undergraduate Research.
During the workshop, presenters shared examples of multi-disciplinary research projects that facilitated academic partnerships across institutions and forged ongoing connections with local communities in multiple cultural contexts.  In one example of a global collaboration, Lee Partridge, Associate Professor of Higher Education Development at the University of Western Australia and a participant in the CEL Seminar on Mentoring, presented information about the Matariki Network, comprised of 7 international universities who are collaborating by identifying common research themes and facilitating international research collaborations for undergraduates.
The success of these programs involves shared inquiry and a focused approach to the research problem, with faculty mentors taking the lead on narrowing the scope of the inquiry to a level appropriate for undergraduates while still meeting the community needs.  Sustaining these partnerships over time was identified as a challenge, in addition to difficulties in structuring exchanges to facilitate social relationships across institutions, communities and cultures.
Brad Wuetherick, Executive Director of Learning and Teaching at Dalhousie University and a participant of the CEL Seminar on Mentoring, encouraged the audience to consider diverse ways to make students part of “scholarly, inclusive, knowledge-building communities” (Brew, 2006) by using undergraduate research as a hub for innovation and learning.  One example of innovative community building in a global context is the International Conference on Undergraduate Research (ICUR) , a forum for undergraduate researchers that connects students around the world via social media and video-conferencing technology.  The philosophy of ICUR is “student-led, student-centred” and through innovative uses of technology this initiative facilitates student research collaborations within an international community without the prohibitive costs of travel.  According to Brew (2006; 2013), undergraduate research brings research and teaching together by focusing on students and emphasizing student engagement, participation and inquiry.  There must be a true integration of research and teaching in order to develop knowledge-building communities, and student collaboration in the inquiry process facilitates their participation in the scholarly community (Brew, 2006; 2013).
Peter Felten elaborated the benefits and challenges of student-faculty collaborations in the context of the study of teaching and learning in a recent CEL blog post.  He noted that students experience increased motivation, confidence and a sense of intellectual agency when engaged in authentic partnerships with faculty.  Within the context of undergraduate research, recent evidence suggests that students who work collaboratively on undergraduate research in a partnership of mutual interest with a faculty mentor develop cognitive, personal and professional gains (Hunter, Laursen & Seymour, 2006; Seymour et al., 2004).  Students are slowly introduced to research practices through the guidance and expertise of their mentors, and move from being newcomers in the community to developing professional identities and gaining confidence in their membership within a larger community of practice (Hunter et al., 2006).  However, little research has focused on the specific nature of the mentoring models employed by faculty mentors of UR, or on the personal and professional gains faculty attribute to their role in mentoring UR.
Mentoring is a critical component of research on collaborative and authentic academic partnerships, but rarely are the processes related to mentoring made the explicit focus of inquiry.  The CEL Seminar on Mentoring Excellence in UR was initiated in order to address some of the knowledge gaps.  At the CUR-ISSOTL workshop, two of the participating teams in the CEL seminar presented their prospective research designs. Lee Partridge, Kathy Takayama, Candace Rypisi and Cassandra Horii presented a poster entitled, Preparing future faculty for undergraduate research mentoring:  A multi-institutional study, and Sara Amin, Andrea Hunt, Michael Neal, Ruth Palmer, Claudia Scholz and Brad Wuetherick presented their plans for a study entitled Mentoring of Undergraduate Research and Identity Development.  In a spontaneous collaborative exchange at the poster session, members of the two teams noticed compelling intersections across their topics and emerging research designs, and decided to make these connections explicit by sharing work in progress and devising plans to present together in the future. (Seminar participant Ruth Palmer also presented, so the seminar was well represented!) We anticipate that the findings of the six teams in the CEL seminar will make a significant and timely contribution to evidence-based practices for mentoring undergraduate research in collaborative communities across institutional and global contexts.

  • Brew, Angela. (2006). Research and Teaching: Beyond the divide. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Brew, Angela. (2013).  Understanding the scope of undergraduate research:  A framework for curricular and pedagogical decision-making.  Higher Education, DOI 10.1007/s10734-013-9624-x
  • Hunter, Anne-Barrie, Laursen, Sandra L., & Seymour, Elaine. (2006). Becoming a scientist: The role of undergraduate research in students’ cognitive, personal, and professional development. Science Education, 91(1), pp. 36-74.
  • Seymour, Elaine, Hunter, Anne-Barrie, Laursen, Sandra L., & DeAntoni, Tracee. (2004). Establishing the benefits of research experiences for undergraduates in the sciences: First findings from a three-year study. Science Education, 88(1), pp. 493-534.

Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler is a Professor of Psychology at Elon University and a Seminar Leader for the 2014-2016 CEL Seminar on Mentoring Undergraduate Research.

How to cite this post:

Vandermaas-Peeler, Maureen. 2014, November 4. Collaborative Communities and Mentoring Undergraduate Research. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from