Tomorrow's Professor Msg.#55 The High-Leverage Impact of One "Non-Traditional" Student on an Academic Research Progam

 
Folks:

The following message from mechanical engineering Professor Lisa Pruitt at University of California, Berkeley, describes the significant, and in some ways unanticipated impact of bringing a "non-traditional" student into her research laboratory. There is much in this story for all of us to admire - and emulate.

Regards,

Rick Reis

UP NEXT: The Right Start-Up Package - It's Not Just About Money

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THE HIGH-LEVERAGE IMPACT OF ONE "NON-TRADITIONAL" STUDENT ON AN ACADEMIC RESEARCH PROGRAM

As an assistant professor, I had the opportunity to advise an exceptional graduate student. She was a "non-traditional" student in that she had a severe disability that prevented her from using her hands. This student was interested in working with me on one of my biomaterials projects. At that time I only had experimental projects underway in my laboratory, yet rather than turning her away we came up with a plan to have undergraduates assist her with her experiments.

Initially this plan required some extra work and planning, yet in the long run it was most beneficial to the student, my research group, and the undergraduates who worked with her. Everything I put into this student I got back (and more). Advising her not only added diversity to my research group, it was a wonderful experience. It was because of her disability that I initially took in several undergraduates into my research group which subsequently led to a very strong undergraduate presence in my laboratory.

The undergraduates who assisted this student had a unique opportunity to work closely with a doctoral candidate and to learn invaluable experimental techniques. Each of these undergraduate students went on to graduate school while my graduate student (who also was my first Ph.D. student to graduate) went on to a research position in a government laboratory

Diversity propagates itself. Undergraduate and graduate students choose specific research labs/advisors based on the recommendation of their friends or colleagues. The positive experiences of these students provide invaluable information for future students. The positive experience of one "non-traditional student" will give the message that you are receptive to non-traditional students in your group. I do not go out of my way to "recruit" non-traditional or minority students but in the last five years I have had several "minority" or non-traditional students (both graduate and undergraduate) in my laboratory.

Furthermore, diversity in our research group affects the scientific

community, outreach programs and public perception. At scientific research meetings, I often bring my whole research group. We are often noticed initially because of our diversity. This notice has resulted in numerous industrial collaborations and job offers for my students. Further, we are active participants in outreach programs and have hosted numerous K-12 and open houses in the research laboratory. These activities have had a positive impact on the public perception of science and engineering. When young students or children visit a diverse research laboratory, it not only provides stimulus for science-- it provides them with a message that not

all engineering and science students are of a certain background, gender or ethnicity.

Lisa A. Pruitt
Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering
University of California@Berkeley
lpruitt@newton.berkeley.edu
http://euler.berkeley.edu/me/faculty/pruitt.html

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