By Jake Mulick
The first annual Barbara Meyers Pelson ’59 Chair in Faculty-Student Engagement Lecture on Wednesday, March 30, in room 212 of the Education Building, provided an in-depth look at the research performed by undergraduate students at the College. The lecture featured a panel of three faculty-student teams from the School of Education that shared their research results and perspectives on conducting research as an undergraduate.
“Undergraduate research is a hallmark of the TCNJ experience,” said College spokesperson Dave Muha, who was one of many present at the lecture. Also in attendance were esteemed members of the off-campus educational community, as well as a myriad of professors and prominent figures at the College.
Among those present was College President R. Barbara Gitenstein, who emphasized the importance of recognitions such as this. The Barbara Meyers Pelson ’59 Chair is the awarding of $35,000 for different research projects, as well as promoting professor-to-student relationships. Gitenstein remarked on the importance of the relationship between professor and student at the College.
“These mentor relationships add an increased emphasis on research that helps to transform disciplines,” Gitenstein said. She further explained that these mentor-mentee relationships are what enable the research in education that this lecture highlighted.
The Barbara Meyers Pelson ’59 chair was awarded to biology Department Chair and Professor Janet Morrison, who is the first person to ever receive the honor. Morrison received this important recognition for her research in diseases and how they relate to plants in their natural population, and non-native invasive plant species, as well as her faculty-student relationships.
Morrison introduced the panel to Associate Professor of Education Ruth Palmer’s and junior English and secondary education dual major Anna Gracey’s work on “Undergraduate Research for All: Course-Integrated Research Options.” In addition, Professor of elementary early childhood education Blythe Hinitz and alumna Jillian Manzo (’15), who worked on “Dr. Montessori’s Legacy — 21st Century Peace Education,” were also introduced. Assistant Professor of elementary and early childhood education Lauren Madden and senior early childhood education and psychology double major Jennifer Liang researched “Growing Green Thinkers.”
These projects ranged from contrasting different teaching styles amongst children to the implementation of environmental education in a young child’s curriculum. These presentations helped to explain the overall goal, which is implementing educational research into the existing School of Education’s curriculum.
The panelists went on to explain how educational research sets the College apart from many other competing education programs in the area. The education program was ranked second in the entire North for undergraduate teaching by U.S. News and World Report.
Gitenstein remarked that she attributes this ranking and prestige to the professor-student relationships like the ones showcased at this lecture.
This prestigious recognition was made possible by a $1 million donation by alumna Barbara Pelson. This donation will allow Morrison to receive six faculty-weighted-hours per year of reassigned time and an estimated $35,000 for research and activities that promote a strong student-to-faculty relationship. The College has a 13:1 student-faculty ratio that makes this feasible, according to tcnj.edu.
The panel also highlighted the importance of the Mentored Undergraduate Summer Experience (MUSE) provided here at the College throughout the lecture. The MUSE program occurs for eight weeks during the summer and allows students to participate in research with faculty.