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Students and faculty have been doing summer research together at Furman since at least 1966, but the numbers have grown steadily in recent years. In 2016, there were about 150 students and 61 faculty members; this year, 272 summer research fellows are working with 104 faculty members, the most in the university’s history.
The growth can be attributed to The Furman Advantage (TFA), says Erik Ching, the director of Undergraduate Research in the Center for Engaged Learning.
“The entire institutional mission has been built around providing every student with at least one engaged learning experience (research, internship, or study away) before they graduate, and thus the entire corpus of our activity in the Center for Engaged Learning has been built around accomplishing this goal,” says Ching, also a professor of history. “That mission has been backed by a financial commitment to making it happen.”
“Almost no other small liberal arts schools come close to the number of faculty at Furman who collaborate with students. It is simply part of the culture here for many departments and part of expectations for tenure and promotion. It is a great example of the value we put on mentoring, also a key feature of TFA,” says Beth Pontari, associate provost for engaged learning.
Most summer research fellows receive a stipend of $3,500; students who are funded by external sources that allow for increased supplements can receive up to $4,500. All fellows are also eligible to receive a significantly reduced price for on-campus summer housing.
The university also tracks and assesses each experience. “Each fellow completes a pre and post assessment that requires them to reflect on their experience,” Pontari says. “They also are required to write a separate reflection on their experience,” and they’re required to take a professional development series that helps them leverage their summer research experience in job interviews and applications for graduate school.
Many students conduct background research to put together a reasonable hypothesis, research different research tools, surveys and methods, and learn new software.
Some will be able to submit their research for publication in an academic journal, while others hope to present their research at a professional conference. All students involved in engaged learning have the opportunity to present their work at Furman Engaged, the spring showcase, scheduled for April 12, 2022.