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Even 35 years later, alumni still remember their favorite professors.

They were the ones who inspired, established new knowledge through research, cut through the academic bureaucracy, offered a sympathetic ear or just believed in a young, clueless student. And those same professors learn from their students.

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Three area programs foster such collaboration.

Faculty in the Halls at Stevenson University

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Now in its third year, Faculty in the Halls began with six faculty members who once a week set up office hours in the comfortable lobbies of the freshman residence halls. This year, it expanded to sophomore halls.

"We're here to remind them that as long as they're at Stevenson, learning can occur anywhere," says Chip Rouse, associate professor and chair of business communications at Stevenson. Rouse and fellow faculty member Leeanne McManus set up shop in Western Run, a dorm that houses 250 freshmen.

Armed with a poster and a bowl of candy to attract students, they are available to interact with all freshman student, not just those in their classes. Twice a month, they host a special activity, such as a cookout, Chick Fil-A and soccer night, career night, debate night or going to a football game as a group.

One group of students from Patapsco Hall embarked on a bus tour of Baltimore neighborhoods, visiting Federal Hill, Hampden and lunching in Little Italy.

"It was a great day," Rouse says, noting most of the students were from out of state and hadn't been to Baltimore.

The faculty partner with the resident advisors who live in the hall to provide activities that relieve stress. A Thanksgiving dinner has already become a tradition.

The requests stray from academia. Rouse recalls two students who approached her because they had no idea how to do laundry; in the laundry room she showed them how to separate colors and select water temperatures. Later, they asked her to teach them to hem pants.

Rouse helps connect students with their academic advisors, and, since her background is in writing, she helped Chandra Upreti, a student from Nepal, with his English.

"It was awesome because we could just go down and talk to them," says Upreti. "I went down to talk to them about my English assignments."

A biology major, he doesn't have Rouse as a professor, but he praises the Faculty in the Halls program.

"It was really helpful to have someone like that you can go to and talk to," Upreti says. "I'm horrible at grammar because my language doesn't have a lot of it. She helped me, but it doesn't have to be about school – you can just talk when you feel stressed."

He also learned about American football – a sport he enjoys – by watching a Ravens-Steelers game and getting pointers.

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"I love the whole American culture," he says.

Says Rouse, "I've gotten to know students out of the major I teach in, and I've gotten to know a lot of undecided students. I want them to find an academic home, and not necessarily in my department, but in one of the departments. I can be a touchstone for them. It's one more person, one more connection. I really believe in getting to know the students outside of them sitting in my classroom."

A grant to do research at Salisbury

At Salisbury University, faculty-student collaboration comes in the form of a research grant for the National Institutes of Health. The three-year grant provides funding for faculty research and equipment and a stipend for students.

Stephen Habay, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry, says the grant allows students to conduct research and travel to scientific conferences to present research results and network.

A synthetic, organic chemist, Habay is a molecular architect – he designs and builds molecules from simpler building blocks and puts the molecules together step by step. The goal is to create molecular compounds to submit to the NIH library, which in turn will be available to researchers across the country to screen them for targets in creating drugs. The molecules also could improve the medicinal properties of drugs or decrease their side effects.

The grant provides funding for up to 15 students, who generally will start as sophomores and continue until they graduate.

"They will be the ones doing all of the experiments," Habay says. "We will teach them how to isolate and purify the molecules they make, and to isolate compounds using spectroscopy to determine if they made the right molecules. They're learning new science chemistry that is not in textbooks – they're creating new science."

It's unusual for a small school without a Ph.D. program to get a grant for such work.

"Research is another way of teaching," Habay says. "They're learning analytical skills and problem-solving skills and puzzle solving."

He adds with a laugh, "They get all excited when they make a new molecule – beyond anything else, it's just a lot of fun. It's exciting."

Matt Bowler, who graduated from Salisbury in December, worked in the lab with Habay on a potential migraine drug that is hard to synthesize and complicated, making it expensive to produce. The goal was to make it simpler and easier to make.

"I think it really expands your education," he says. "You spend time in class and in the lab, but in the lab you know what will happen – in research you don't actually know what will happen." And when the unexpected happens, students must think more constructively about how to approach the problem, learning how to see the big picture and honing critical thinking skills.

"You learn things in class, but once I actually did it on my own, it made more sense," Bowler says. "You understand the concept."

In addition to gaining research experience, the students learn how to use specific instruments and they attend conferences. "To go to a conference is important, not just to understand the science but to be able to communicate what you've done," Habay says. Presenting research and getting feedback "gives them more confidence no matter what field they go into."

Catching FIRE at the University of Maryland

The University of Maryland offers the First-Year Innovation & Research Experience (FIRE), designed to get students involved in innovation and research early in their academic careers.

The two-year-old program offers a dozen research streams, in fields as varied as the biological sciences, psychology, communications, engineering, and arts and humanities. Freshman and transfer students decide which stream they'll join; each accommodates about 40 students. A tenured faculty professor brings his or her research to the stream, and a Ph.D.-holding research educator and a team of peer mentors work daily with the students.

"The real strength of the program is the broad mentorship we're able to offer," says Patrick Killion, Ph.D., director of First-Year Research Programs at the University of Maryland. He explains FIRE is modeled after a University of Texas program started a decade ago to retain STEM students.

While Maryland did not have a problem with STEM retention, the university did find that about half of its 4,000 freshmen were not in the Honors College, College Park Scholars or other living-learning programs.

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"This was designed to be another opportunity to get students involved," Killion says, noting that for students with undeclared majors, it "assists first-year students in having experiences that help them decide on their major." As a part of FIRE, students increase their overall academic success, feeling more confident and connected.

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Students take FIRE 120 in their first semester, a three-credit course that works on skills such as data analysis and visualization, critical thinking and working with primary literature. In the second semester, they choose their research stream.

The tenured faculty bring actual research work that needs to be done.

"When faculty ask, "What is the level of work?' I say, 'Whatever your graduate students and post-docs are doing,' " Killion says. "The real feature of the program – and I call this the deal breaker – is that the program does authentic, faculty-led research, but the reason we can do this is because of the mentors."

The Ph.D.-trained research educator ensures the research will be done properly, even in the hands of first-year students. That benefits faculty, who in the past would train upper-level students only to see them graduate just as they became productive.

Sophomore Mina Griffion had conducted a small research project in high school.

"I found myself captivated by the research process," she says in an e-mail. "When the opportunity rose to participate in a faculty-led, inquiry-based experience involving skills training and research projects, I applied right away." She chose the Found in Translation research stream. "Genetics is still such a fascinating field as there is so much we still do not know … I have learned many new lab techniques and experienced how research works along with how it is funded and how the results are disseminated through abstracts, posters and manuscripts. I feel that FIRE has really strengthened my resolve to continue a career in research to improve people's lives. I have made many new friends and hopefully future colleagues. It has been nice to be able to meet students with similar goals and interests and that we have been able to support each other."

Nazira Alli, a senior, transferred to the university for its research opportunities.

"I knew this program would benefit me with more lab experience and one-on-one time with a professor; expanding my network connections and confidence within a lab setting," she said in an e-mail.

Interested in microbiology, she chose the Environmental Pathogens stream because she wanted to work in a wet lab.

"The FIRE program has impacted me by increasing my passion for microbial research and spurring an interest in host pathogenic interactions. It has also reaffirmed my decision to be a research scientist in the biomedical field."

But FIRE is not just for science students.

"Fire is not hyper-STEM focused," Dr. Killion says, noting that increasing scientific literacy, no matter what their interests, makes students better citizens.

After completing FIRE, which is nine credits, students can be matched with a faculty member, a regional institute or an internship.

"By the middle of their sophomore year, students have skills that many grad students don't have – and the good news is they'll be there two and a half more years," Killion says. •

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