Although classroom learning is intimately intertwined with mentoring, the place where mentorship ensues is often outside the classroom. For me, this often occurs within the context of the Undergraduate Research Lab (the Lab) that I developed. Housed within the Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence (ACE!) where I am Deputy Director, the Lab provides opportunities for undergraduate students to gain experience in a real-world research setting by becoming actively involved in on-going (mostly externally funded) research. Through the Lab, I bring research to life for many undergraduate students via first-hand experiences.
Each semester and over the summer, I admit three to five undergraduate research assistants (UGRAs) into the Lab (some for course credit and others volunteer between five and twenty hours weekly.) To date, The Lab has hosted/mentored over 40 UGRAs. All UGRAs receive an orientation session, specific project training and mentorship from me or one of my graduate students or post-doctoral fellows using a “nested mentoring model” (where both the UGRAs and graduate students learn from each other.) With a mentor’s guidance, UGRAs’ work includes data coding, analysis, presentation preparation assistance, literature searches, beta/pilot testing, data entry/cleaning and/or systematic reviews. We also incorporate fieldtrips to local corrections agencies to get the UGRAs out of the office and into justice settings. They also have opportunities to publish from their experiences in the ACE! publication, Advancing Practice.
All ACE! UGRAs learn about and experience real research “in action" which helps them understand the value of using research to improve practice in with justice agencies such as probation/parole, courts and prisons. This style of mentoring builds a relationship over a semester (or sometimes more) that the UGRAs often rely on after they leave ACE! for guidance, referrals and research help. Through the Lab, I also work with UGRAs from several colleges/disciplines within my university as labs are not abundant outside the hard sciences. Additionally, our Lab is now a model for another on-campus lab—I consulted on their design and implementation. Both Labs now work to broaden and deepen my university’s focus on Students as Scholars by providing real research experience to undergraduate students who desperately seek, but rarely find, an opportunity like this within the social sciences.
More on the Lab specifics in forthcoming blog posts...