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Larson: Undergraduate research opportunities foster creative and innovative thinkers

Undergraduate research primes the nation for growth and investments in student research, even in times of fiscal constraint, are critical to train the next generation workers to address complex challenges now and in the future. As outgoing president of the Council on Undergraduate Research, a national organization whose mission is to promote and support undergraduate research, and as a faculty member and division chair at Concordia College, I am familiar with the positive impact of undergraduate research.

Undergraduate research is an investigation or inquiry conducted by a student under the mentorship of a faculty member which contributes to a high-level intellectual or creative outcome. Concordia College understands the value of undergraduate research as an educational experience that propels our students forward. Each year, over 300 students from all disciplines—including the arts, humanities, business and professional programs, social science, science and mathematics—share their research at our Celebration of Student Scholarship. We could not be more proud of our students—their ideas, energy, and quality of their work. Perhaps most importantly, these students are preparing themselves for continuing education and employment because of their undergraduate research experiences.

With support from National Science Foundation grants and by the Minnesota Space Grant Consortium (funded through National Aeronautics and Space Administration), Concordia has supported student researchers who pursue graduate education in science, technology and engineering fields. Many of our student researchers have also gone on to work for information technology companies and regional nonprofit organizations. Our students have entered engineering and teaching fields and are pursuing careers as medical professionals, many with an interest in working in regional, small town clinics.

And, our students are graduating with the skills that employers say they value—communications, teamwork, willingness to learn, resilience in the face of challenge and critical thinking—because these are the skills learned through research and scholarship. Students who engage in undergraduate research learn to be creative thinkers, develop objectivity of perspective, and are able to adapt and innovate. For these reasons, in a world that grows more technologically sophisticated by the day, we have a responsibility, as both educators and as citizens, to ensure that our students are getting opportunities to perform authentic research during their college careers.

To date, much of the investment in undergraduate research experiences has come from the federal agencies and programs, especially at the National Science Foundation. Continued investments from state and federal funding agencies that support impactful undergraduate research experiences are important for Concordia College and other institutions of higher education in the Fargo-Moorhead area, and for local businesses and nonprofits. An undergraduate's engagement and success in college and contributions to the workforce are significantly enhanced by an undergraduate research experience. Broader participation in undergraduate research will provide students with the knowledge and skills they need for 21st-century jobs, preparing graduates to succeed in a world that values innovation, problem-solving, teamwork and collaboration.

Larson is the division chairwoman for science and mathematics at Concordia College and president of the council on Undergraduate Research.