Hope College has earned national recognition for the high quality of its undergraduate research program with a 2017 Campus-Wide Award for Undergraduate Research Accomplishments (AURA) from the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR).

Now in its third year, the award draws from CUR’s “Characteristics of Excellence in Undergraduate Research,” a document that presents criteria for exceptional undergraduate research, scholarship and creative activity programs.  AURA recognition also requires campuses to have depth and breadth in their undergraduate research initiatives and evidence of continued innovation.

Only nine colleges and universities nationwide, three per year, have received the recognition since the annual program began in 2015.  Hope is the only institution in Michigan to have earned the award.

“Active outreach to underrepresented students, integration of research into the curriculum, and sustainability are some of the hallmarks of the 2017 AURA recipients,” said CUR’s Executive Officer Elizabeth Ambos and President Anne Boettcher. “CUR is proud to recognize these academic institutions that have diligently pursued excellence in undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative inquiry on their campuses.”

Hope has engaged students in original research for more than seven decades.  Such experiential learning continues to be so important that it is addressed in the first goal and objective of the college’s strategic plan, “Hope for the World: 2025,” adopted in 2015.

“Involving students in genuine scholarship is central to Hope’s academic program,” said Dr. William F. Polik, associate dean of research and scholarship at Hope.  “We have strong research programs in all of the divisions:  natural and applied sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities.  Undergraduate research is a significant reason why Hope students are successful when they graduate.  In the process of contributing to discoveries in their disciplines, students gain skills of creativity, problem-solving and independence that are critical to success after graduation.”

Mentored collaborative research happens year-round, with approximately 300 students conducting faculty-supervised independent research during the academic year and 200 doing research over the summer.  In addition to the benefits to their learning, participating students frequently become co-authors on articles published in peer-reviewed professional journals.

Two decades ago, Hope began to broaden research opportunities beyond traditional faculty-mentored student projects.  As a result, course-based research experiences now reach hundreds more students each year.  Hope has also established several living-learning-research communities, including the Phelps Scholars Program, in which students explore topics related to diversity; FACES (Fostering a Community of Excellence in Science), which is a community of students who are members of groups underrepresented at Hope or in STEM fields; and Day1, which annually involves 120 students in research starting with their first day on campus.

To support the program, the college’s faculty have secured $20 million of external awards for undergraduate research over the past decade.  The grants, Polik said, are complemented by endowed funds, state-of-the-art equipment and outstanding facilities.

Research has a long and storied history at Hope College.  More than 100 years ago, biologist Dr. Samuel O. Mast designed research laboratory space for the college’s Van Raalte Hall, which opened in 1903.  The late Dr. Gerrit Van Zyl, who taught chemistry at the college from 1923 to 1964, is widely recognized for developing research-based learning at Hope in its modern sense.

Hope has received recognition in a variety of ways through the years for its success in teaching through collaborative faculty-student research, and for the high quality of the research itself.  Among other acclaim historically, in 1998 Hope was one of only 10 liberal arts institutions in the nation to be recognized for innovation and excellence in science instruction by the National Science Foundation (NSF) with an “Award for the Integration of Research and Education” (AIRE), and in 1994 Project Kaleidoscope named the program in the natural applied sciences a “Whole Program That Works” — a model for other institutions to emulate.   Based on the college’s proven history of excellence, CUR chose Hope to present the national webinar “Transformational Learning through Undergraduate Research and Creative Performance” in April 2011.

For the past 16 years, since the category debuted, the Best Colleges guide published by U.S. News & World Report has included Hope on its list of institutions that are exceptional for their emphasis on undergraduate research and creative projects.  Hope is one of only 42 institutions of all types, and one of only 12 national liberal arts colleges, on the list in the 2018 edition.

Hope students themselves also regularly receive national awards that reflect their participation in research, including prestigious Goldwater Scholarships and NSF Graduate Research Fellowships the past several years.  Just this past August, junior Ashley Trojniak won the national “Outstanding Student Poster Award” — chosen from among undergraduate students and graduate students — presented by the American Chemical Society’s division of Colloid and Surface Chemistry, for research conducted with Dr. Beth Anderson of the college’s chemistry faculty.  Also this summer, teams of Hope students won first place and honorable mention in the 2016-17 Undergraduate Statistics Project Competition of the Consortium for the Advancement of Undergraduate Statistics Education and the American Statistical Association, for research projects conducted in a course taught by Todd Swanson of the mathematics faculty.

The Council on Undergraduate Research supports faculty and student development for high-quality undergraduate student-faculty collaborative research, scholarship and creative activities. More than 700 institutions and more than 13,000 individuals belong to CUR. CUR believes that the best way to capture student interest and create enthusiasm for a discipline is through research in close collaboration with faculty members.

In addition to Hope, Denison University and Florida Atlantic University received AURA recognition this year.  The other schools that have been honored are Furman University, Clemson University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2016; and Allegheny College, George Mason University and The College of New Jersey in 2015.  Hope and the other 2017 awardees will be honored at the CUR Executive Board reception on Friday, Jan. 26, 2018, at the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) in Washington, D.C.