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LaCrosse Tribune - Research Extends Beyond Classrooms

Op-Ed

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By Joe Gow and Ron Kind

The National Conference on Undergraduate Research will be held this week on the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse campus. This is the second time that UW-L will host NCUR, a national event that brings together students and faculty mentors from across the country to share their research.

This is significant for the university and to the community, as more than 3,000 visitors will make their way to La Crosse.

This is a unique opportunity to shed light on the outstanding research taking place on campuses across our state and how that activity enhances the learning experience.

The benefits of undergraduate research extend far beyond the laboratories and classrooms. The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology notes that U.S. spending on research and development as a share of the gross-domestic product is now less than other leading and emerging nations. Reversing this decline is critical if our nation wants to remain a leader in innovation and discovery -- the driving forces behind new industries and new jobs in the 21st century.

Providing rich undergraduate research experiences, according to the Council, is key to strengthening and enhancing the nation's ecosystem of innovation.

Other recent studies indicate that undergraduate research has a significant and positive effect on students, faculty, institutions and a state's economy. Students who participate in advanced research are much more likely to stay in school, graduate in a timely manner, find employment after graduation and attend graduate schools. While evidence shows benefits for all students, the gains for students from traditionally under-represented populations are even more profound.

Today's professors are committed to both teaching and research, along with mentoring their students through hands-on engagement.

Our campuses benefit from including undergraduate research in the curriculum. In fact, all citizens benefit as undergraduate research programs prepare students to be entrepreneurial.

The Wisconsin Technology Council agrees, arguing that leadership in cutting-edge research, innovative business models and entrepreneurial excellence are vital ingredients for a vibrant Wisconsin economy.

All the institutions of the University of Wisconsin System -- including UW-L -- are committed to providing significant undergraduate research experiences for students. They have established a close and beneficial working relationship with the Council on Undergraduate Research, the country's leading voice in undergraduate research.

Beth Ambos, executive officer of the Council on Undergraduate Research, recently said, "The University of Wisconsin System is providing significant leadership in the national undergraduate research movement. The engagement of the campuses throughout the system is

outstanding, as exemplified by UW-L hosting of NCUR this year, which will be the largest attendance yet at an NCUR event."

However, amid looming budget cuts at the federal level, there are issues of real impact and implications for the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and the Department of Education -- federal agencies that make the greatest investments in undergraduate research. Investment in agencies and programs that, in turn, invest in undergraduate research is critical. State and federal spending decisions should reflect this commitment.

If we are to meet the workforce needs and research goals of our state and country, undergraduate research is essential for the academic and professional success of our students, the benefit of our communities, and the economic competitiveness of our state and nation.

NCUR's return engagement at UW-L reflects this state's commitment to undergraduate research and the strong national reputation that grew out of that commitment. To maintain that reputation in the future and benefit future generations of UW students, we must invest wisely in these proven strategies that boost education, innovation and economic development.


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