By Carole J. Fuller
Besides bringing daffodils
and budding trees, springtime at Smith also brings Collaborations
(www.smith.edu/collaborations), a one-day event that demonstrates
the quality and excitement of teaching and learning at Smith.
Smith faculty and students work together on a variety of
research projects in the humanities, social sciences, performing
arts, natural sciences and engineering. On a single day, they present
their work on an array of topics -- from
comparisons of ancient Athens and small New England towns to the prospects
of Indian women politicians -- to the community in an all-day series of
scientific posters, presentations, artwork and performances. This year’s
Collaborations day, held on Saturday, April 16, coincided with Discovery Weekend
for prospective students.
The opportunity to conduct research with
a faculty member is a special part of a Smith education.
Smith students can pursue an aspect of their major with a breadth and
depth that is unusual for undergraduate programs. Ultimately, student
work may be published in a peer-reviewed journal, presented at a national
conference or used to boster applications for graduate schools and fellowships.
independent research is definitely the way teaching is going
Roisin O’Sullivan, assistant professor of economics. “More is expected
of students these days, and giving them the chance to initiate a project rather
than be a passive receptacle for information is absolutely crucial preparation
for the world after college.”
“Faculty at research universities
often experience a devaluation of their teaching, and that is not something
we encounter at Smith,” notes Patricia
DiBartolo ’89, associate professor of psychology. “The balance
between research and teaching benefits both the students and faculty, keeping
the work fresh and dynamic for both.”
The research projects are not scaled down for student learners. Indeed, faculty
report that their students often gain sufficient expertise to converse
as peers, and Smith students who present at conferences are frequently mistaken
for graduate students.
In addition to the competitive advantage
the research experience provides, undergraduates gain an
intensive, real-time view of the demands that their prospective careers
may make on them -- and, now
and then, experience the thrill of real discovery.
“One of the joys
of working with undergraduates is that they are not as constrained by dominant
ideas in their field,” notes Andrew Rotman, assistant
professor of religion and biblical literature. “They think broadly
and ask new questions, which makes teaching them interesting and exciting.
By the same token, as a mentor and collaborator, I have the opportunity
to teach them discipline in research, to challenge their thinking and push
them toward a deeper understanding. That’s one of the best rewards
that teaching can offer.”