A primary purpose of our public university is to generate, evaluate and communicate ideas within a diverse intellectual community comprised of faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduate students. Therefore, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is dedicated to the task of making research, mentored scholarship, and creative performance distinctive features undergraduate education. The provision of “high quality undergraduate instruction to students within a community engaged in original inquiry and creative expression” has been an explicit part of the University’s mission statement since 1994.
The UNC-Chapel Hill intellectual community is defined by the fact that faculty members are involved in a wide range of undergraduate programs, are committed to training Master’s and PhD students, and also are engaged in their own research and scholarly activity. Ideally, universities such as ours are “communities of learners” where “the shared goals of investigation and discovery should bind together the disparate elements to create a sense of wholeness” (Boyer Commission Report on Educating Undergraduates, p. 9). In reality, the emphasis on research sometimes separates faculty from undergraduates and graduate education from undergraduate education, to the detriment of all. In 1997, the Chancellor’s Task Force on Intellectual Climate released a report that described several ways in which UNC-Chapel Hill was failing to engage its students in a satisfying and powerful intellectual life sufficient to address the pressing needs of society (a crucial role for a public university). The report also outlined several interrelated strategies for effecting change including the creation of OUR, in 1999, to promote active, mentored learning experiences for undergraduates.
In the first 10 years after OUR was established (1999-2009), an average of 50% of undergraduates at UNC-Chapel Hill completed a research-intensive course prior to graduating; 220 research-exposure courses were offered; 6976 undergraduates participated in these courses; and 330 students received a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship. With support from administrators, faculty, and generous contributors, undergraduate research opportunities are continuing to grow.
The current UNC Quality Enhancement Plan emphasizes the importance of undergraduate research in all disciplines as part of experiential education. It includes plans to develop Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences, expand interdisciplinary curricula, and enhance research opportunities for students by adding research skills courses, expanding infrastructure to support student research, and developing additional opportunities for students to work on interdisciplinary research teams.
Articles about OUR
- The Age of Discovery, by Mark Derewicz, Carolina Alumni Review, January-February 2014.
- 10 Years Later, by Kim Weaver Spurr, Carolina Arts & Sciences Magazine, Fall 2009, pp. 6-11.
- Student Scholars, by Lindsay Naylor, Carolina Arts & Sciences Magazine, Spring 2008, p. 31.
- Something Nobody’s Ever Done Before, by Darv Johnson, Carolina Alumni Review 96(6):44-51 (2007).
- Summer Scholars, by Kim Weaver Spurr, Carolina Arts & Sciences Magazine, Spring 2007, pp. 15-17.