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Beth Sorensen
Office of Communications


Grant will fund peer mentoring program for independent research

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has named Reed College as one of ten recipients of the national Award for the Integration of Research and Education (AIRE) at Baccalaureate Institutions. Reed College will use this $500,000 award to advance institutional goals of integrating research and education, document and disseminate information of its exemplary activities, and expand the integration of research and education by conducting outreach activities over the coming three years.

AIRE recipients, according to program officials, have excelled in providing undergraduates an experience rooted in the process of discovery, and the award reflects NSF's confidence that the college named to receive the awards will be expanding and improving their innovative programs.

"These institutions are strengthening the bonds between research and education by designing and implementing new ways to involve undergraduate students in the process of discovery," Joseph Bordogna, NSF's acting deputy director, said.

"This is a great honor for Reed College," said biology professor Peter Russell, project director for Reed's grant. "Reed science programs have had a long tradition of research-oriented curricula and the involvement of undergraduates in faculty research projects. This NSF-AIRE award acknowledges our leadership in this area."

The major objective of the project is to increase the quality of independent research projects for Reed College students of biology, psychology, chemistry, and physics. Reed will accomplish this by implementing an undergraduate research mentor program. This program will use experienced students to help develop the research skills of students who are newer to the sciences. These advanced students will serve as peer mentors to groups of students doing independent projects in introductory, intermediate-level, or upper-division courses.

Juniors and seniors selected for the program will spend the summer preceding their mentoring doing independent research with a faculty member in their field and may also develop investigative labs for courses or pilot possible independent projects. During the school year, the mentor will then work with one or two lab sections a week, where they will help less-experienced students design and implement research projects.

"Reed has a long tradition of emphasizing student research--students actively engaged in real research projects--as an important part of our pedagogy. This award, an important endorsement for our approach to teaching science, will help us to sustain and enhance this part of our program," said Peter Steinberger, Reed College's dean of the faculty.

The college has been committed to the integration of research and education since its inception. This commitment has been reaffirmed throughout the curriculum, beginning with investigative experiences in introductory laboratory courses and culminating with the college's mandatory year-long senior thesis, which must involve collaborative research with a faculty member. Along with the senior thesis, the mandatory comprehensive junior qualifying exam is another crucial element of Reed's approach to the integration of research and education. The college is number one among all U.S. institutions of higher education in the percentage of students who go on to earn Ph.D.s in the life sciences.

As a recipient of the grant, Reed College has also been invited to participate in the Institutional Change Institute in Washington, D.C., an NSF program supported by the American Association for Higher Education. This institute will create a network of colleges and universities that are working to institutionalize reform efforts in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology education. The resulting network is expected to disseminate new knowledge and increase awareness of the importance of science education in society and the economy.

In addition to Reed, the nine other institutions receiving this award included Colby College, Wellesley College, Grinnell College, Occidental University, Union College, Oberlin College, Harvey Mudd College, Hope College, and Coastal Carolina University.

The National Science Foundation is an independent U.S. government agency responsible for promoting science and engineering through programs that invest over $3.3 billion per year in almost 20,000 research and education projects in science and engineering. The Awards for the Integration of Research and Education program (AIRE), a program of the NSF, provides awards to academic institutions that have demonstrated exceptional leadership, innovation, and achievement in pursuing excellence in the integration of research and education.