In-depth project target of concern

Amy Hamblin

Two days after the Office of the Provost unveiled the Highest Order of Excellence II report, some faculty are voicing doubt about whether all Northwestern students would be able to participate in the full-time research project recommended in the proposal.

The immersion experience would allow every interested undergraduate to conduct research on or away from campus, which for most would include not taking classes for at least one quarter. The in-depth research project would conclude with a final paper. Stephen Fisher, associate provost for undergraduate education, said the immersion experience is one of many ideas in the report to encourage students and faculty to pioneer new fields and delve into interdisciplinary work.

“We did debate whether to make it compulsory or not,” Fisher said. “We decided initially to just extend (existing) opportunities.”

Taking a full quarter off simply is not feasible for some students, added Fisher, who served on a committee for the report. There could be potential problems for students already completing an immersion experience through existing programs, such as the Medill’s Teaching Media program, McCormick’s co-op program and the School of Education and Social Policy’s practicum.

But committee member and journalism Prof. Rich Gordon said the research project was intended to target students who don’t have opportunities to see the practical side of what they are learning and “put it all together.”

He said his committee for the report laid out two goals for all NU students: to connect classroom work with the “real world” and engage in original research. Although he said Teaching Media fulfills the first goal, it doesn’t necessarily require students to research a proposed topic. As part of the current program, Medill students intern for a quarter at newspapers, magazines and broadcast stations during their junior or senior years.

Because the Highest Order of Excellence II is only a framework, Gordon said a task force further examining the idea would decide whether TM could count as an immersion experience by itself.

However, the proposal suggests that students could do research based on these required internships. But some question whether there is enough time for students participating in 40-hour-per-week internships to do additional research and a paper.

Michele Bitoun, director of the TM program, said she believes students would be overburdened with an additional project.

“They are off campus and totally immersed in the experience of being a broadcast journalist or newspaper reporter,” Bitoun said. “I don’t know if they could take on a meaty, research paper.”

But Bitoun added that TM could be adapted to add a research component, if students didn’t have to write the paper during the quarter. A better model, she noted, would be to have Medill students enroll in a research seminar after returning from TM.

Susan Johnston, coordinator of the practicum program, said Education students already fulfill the requirement. Similar to TM, the practicum requires students to spend a quarter completing a research project done through a Chicago organization, while taking seminar classes at NU.

“The practicum is an example of the immersive program — not that the immersion program would be a separate entity,” Johnston said.

Reach Amy Hamblin at [email protected]