Opening Eyes, Expanding Minds

Photo of Dr. Ben Ford with students at dig site in Blairsville.

Dr. Ben Ford, right, with students at the dig site near Blairsville.

Why should we care that Josiah Townsend found a new species of pit viper last summer?

I’ll admit it. Snakes terrify me, but I have an important reason to celebrate Dr. Townsend’s triumph. The American Association of Colleges and Universities has declared that in this century, all students must master the arts of inquiry and innovation. It recommends that all institutions increase the number of opportunities for students to work with faculty members and others on research.

And you wonder what this has to do with pit vipers, right?

When Dr. Townsend discovered that new species and 22 others, he was working in Honduras on a Fulbright grant, and he took along with him more than a dozen assistants who just happen to be IUP students.

Dr. Townsend is back in Honduras completing his research as part of the grant, but the students returned to IUP with fresh perspectives about their academic journey and benefited from an international experience that will fuel their résumés and their budding careers.

One of the advantages we brag about is that while we are in the company of Pitt, Penn State, and Temple on the statewide scene, our professors, unlike many of theirs, teach undergraduates and engage them in the research. IUP’s rating with Carnegie Classification of Higher Education Institutions bumps up to the second highest level of doctoral universities, if you examine that measure today, based on IUP’s research expenditures and the number of research doctoral degrees we award.

Imagine the value of uncovering a historical truth, as Ben Ford and Bill Chadwick’s students recently did. During the summer Archaeological Field School, the students excavated the village of Newport, an area near Blairsville that was thought to have been first inhabited in 1780. The students found 8,000-year-old artifacts that prove humans settled along the Conemaugh River much earlier than anyone knew.

What I’ve described to you scratches the surface of what is occurring across our campus. Eye-opening experiences like these are what set our undergraduate students apart, are what inspire them to aspire for more, and what put them on the inside track for graduate school and careers.

Now, match up those hands-on discoveries with traditional coursework and value-added credentials like our minor in Leadership and Teamwork or our new Living-Learning Certificate programs in Global Scholarship or Scientific Communication, and you have an undergraduate experience that is pretty tough to beat.

It’s right here at IUP.

As always, I appreciate your interest and support. If you have any questions or comments, please ask or share.

The Bonus Experience

Who doesn’t love a bonus?

After all, a bonus is always something good and usually something extra. Yet, when it comes to higher education, what might once have been considered a bonus experience is now considered essential.

If I could, I’d send every single undergraduate in the nation head first into some kind of bonus experience—the kind that would snap their heads up from tracking Pokemon on their cell phones and engage them in life’s real issues.

IUP political science major Maggie McGahen, on right, participated in a discussion on whether delegates should be unbound from candidates in Cleveland as part of The Washington Center's Convention Academic Series.

IUP political science major Maggie McGahen, on right, participated in a discussion on whether delegates should be unbound from candidates in Cleveland as part of The Washington Center’s Convention Academic Series.

Internships, study abroad opportunities, hands-on service and research—whether you call them bonus experiences or engagement—open students’ eyes and force them to live and learn in the moment.

Right now, our International Education Office is tracking about a hundred students who opted to study abroad this summer—some in groups with faculty members and others independently. Jessica Halchak, who oversees study abroad opportunities, says that IUP students are in 17 countries, including China, Thailand, Costa Rica, and United Kingdom. Imagine being a young American in London with a front-row view of the Brexit vote.

Likewise, more than 500 students are in the midst of internship experiences this summer. More than 2,000 annually participate in some type of internship—roughly one in every seven IUP students.

And then there’s the gang from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Michele Papakie and David Chambers, who chair our Journalism and Public Relations and Political Science departments and who worked together to get IUP students accepted into the 2016 Convention Academic Series sponsored by The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars. The program immerses college students from around the country in the national political party conventions’ inner workings. Papakie and Chambers were chosen for residential faculty duty, which entails sitting in on seminars presented by those running all facets of the convention—from security to rules–and then moderating synthesis discussions with the students and reviewing their journal essays.

Papakie accompanied students to Cleveland the week before the Republican National Convention for the seminar portion of the experience. Now, during the convention, IUP political science students have been assigned to work with the Pennsylvania delegation and the journalism major with CBS. They all are putting in 12-hour days in this power-packed week of national impact.

“During the synthesis discussions, the students just came to life. It’s so exciting to watch their passion for issues explode,” she said of the students.

Chambers will accompany six journalism and political science students to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Back home at IUP, science and math students are in the thick of the Research Experience for Summer Scholars program, which we featured in a recent edition of IUP Magazine. In this residential program, the students choose a topic and take it through the paces to come to solid conclusions with long days in the lab and evening and lunchtime discussions about science. The topics have been, to say the least, highly impressive. At the end, they are expected to present on their findings. But, as chemistry professor Justin Fair said, it’s more than drawing and presenting scientific conclusions.

“They learn how to actually sell themselves—that’s a skill they’ll need down the road,” he said.

Opportunities like these come to students at a cost above and beyond tuition and housing, but they are crucial learning moments. Bonus experiences help to differentiate IUP students from others as they move to the job market, and their impact is even greater. Because engaged students have an enhanced understanding, their impact on the key problems, challenges, and opportunities are greater moving forward, putting them in the best position to make the world a better place.

Private support makes rich experiences like these possible, and I know our students are grateful for your investment in IUP. Often, your support is what enables them to participate and thrive.