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Engaging Students in Faculty Research

Katie Morales, Tanner Health System School of Nursing, University of West Georgia

Modupe Adewuyi, WellStar School of Nursing, Kennesaw State University

Cindy Johnson, Tanner Health System School of Nursing, University of West Georgia

Key Statement: Engaging students in faculty research is a high-impact practice that provides students opportunities to engage with faculty outside a course in a mentoring relationship, to respond to constructive feedback, to network with professionals in a work experience, and to market themselves for employment or graduate schools.

Keywords: Student Research, Experiential Learning, High-Impact Practice


We adapted and implemented high-impact practices (HIPs) to engage undergraduate and graduate students in faculty research based on the principles of adult learning theory (Knowles, 1990) and cognitive learning theory (Sincero, 2011). High-impact practices are an active pedagogy to promote deep learning through experiential learning, offering meaningful educational benefits and ensuring student success (American Association of Colleges and Universities ([AAC&U], 2022). High-impact practices can include capstone projects, supervised research, collaborative assignments, internships, and service-based learning experiences to explore diverse cultures. Specifically, student participation in faculty supervised research activities is impactful (Popescu et al., 2019; Schwartz et al., 2018), stimulating academic inquiry and promoting interdisciplinary learning, career development, cultural awareness, leadership, and professional and intellectual skills. As an experiential learning activity, students learn by doing and reflecting as they connect classroom content to learning activities and gain insight into career possibilities after graduation (Schwarz, 2018).

Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng. Unsplash.

The Strategy

First, as nursing faculty at two large public universities and one private liberal arts college in the Southeast United States, we recruited students who enjoyed evidence-based practice classes for informal mentoring and/or interested students enrolled in a formal First Year Scholars Program to assist in Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved faculty research projects. See Table 1 for our student demographics. To create a safe learning environment, all student participation was voluntary and could be withdrawn at any time without penalty. No course grade was associated with participation, and we were not in a position to grade participating students. No incentives were provided for students receiving informal mentoring and no additional incentive was provided to students enrolled in the First Year Scholars program other than the associated stipend from the sponsoring university. To comply with IRB requirements, all student participants completed Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) training before assisting in any studies and could not view identifiable data in any study.

Experiential Learning Activities

Secondly, the undergraduate and graduate students assisted with five different research projects in a variety of ways. Undergraduate students pilot-tested Qualtrics surveys (providing rich preliminary feedback), scheduled qualitative interviews, and designed recruitment flyers. The students as partners framework (Matthews, 2018) guided students and faculty as undergraduate students shared innovative ideas such as incorporating a QR code in the recruitment flyer and using virtual transcription service for the qualitative interviews. The professional networking and collaboration led to one undergraduate student contributing to a three-volume nursing textbook. The undergraduate students enrolled in the First Year Scholars program conducted secondary data analysis and presented a poster at the university’s Scholarship Symposium. The graduate student performed a literature search based on the search terms provided by us and drafted a matrix table of the selected studies. We co-authored a systematic literature review with the graduate student which was published in a peer reviewed journal.


In the final step, students and faculty reflected on our experiences. Students described participation as a valuable learning opportunity, making them more competitive in the job or higher education markets. Students applied theoretical research knowledge and developed related skills. Other identified benefits included building a student portfolio, presenting professionally, and improving scholarly writing skills. Students also recognized they participated in a pivotal moment of history as several of the studies focused on the impact of COVID-19.

Students offered the following comments regarding the benefits of participation “...the dementia care study has been a wonderful experience to be able to have access to the data and being able to analyze it as I see fit and having someone to talk to about the data and clear up things I may be confused on.” Another student commented, “...the dementia care study has been a good learning experience and is something I can use to help with furthering my education.” Students reflected on the value of the experience, saying participating in the study “...gave me many things to reflect on and really think about.” The students valued experiential learning, commenting, “...out-of-the-classroom experience added to my learning and has given me an edge over the average nursing student.”

The students found the experience helped them build a relationship with a professional network of caring faculty. One student observed, “Having a mentor who is incredibly involved, concerned, and understanding has made being a part of this research team a vast experience. I have learned that I am in a space where it is acceptable to make mistakes as long as we grow from them.” Another student appreciated the networking opportunities, saying, “I was able to connect with professors and students from another college which adds to my professional development.”

We valued partnering with students and building mentoring relationships. This allowed us to build professional portfolios and increase our professional networking. Inclusion of students in faculty research may be advantageous when writing grants or submitting publications.


The students identified challenges associated with participation in the project, such as increased work and time burdens, making it difficult to maintain good academic standing requirements as evidenced by the attrition of one student. We (faculty) identified the following challenges: increased workload, time burdens and student attrition.


Faculty interested in engaging students in research may consider the following options: participating in the research day activities on campus, serving on honors thesis committees and/or the undergraduate research committee, and encouraging students to participate in a journal club or present a poster at research day offered at most state capitols. Additionally, most campuses offer some type of student research assistant programs to reimburse students or fund projects based on their areas of research interest. If the campus does not offer these activities, faculty could consider organizing them. In conclusion, all agreed the benefits of including students in faculty research outweighed any additional burden for faculty and/or students.

Discussion Questions

  1. Considering your student demographics, how can you promote diversity and inclusion in research? See Table 1 for our student demographics.

  2. Considering your current workload, what are the benefits of engaging students in research? What are the challenges of engaging students in research?

  3. Considering your course schedule and research projects, what ideas do you have to engage students in research?


American Association of Colleges and Universities. (2022). High-Impact Practices.

Knowles, M. (1990). The adult learner. A neglected species (4th ed.). Gulf


Popescu, D., Roibu, H., Abagiu, M., Popescu, R., Popescu, L., & Petrisor, A. (2019).

Research as a part of education - A case study of engaging students in

research activities. 2019 29th Annual Conference of the European Association

for Education in Electrical and Information Engineering (EAEEIE), p. 1–7.

Schwartz, B. M., Gregg, V. R., & McKee, M. (2018). Conversations about careers:

Engaging students in and out of the classroom. Teaching of Psychology, 45(1),


Sincero, S. (2011). Cognitive Learning Theory. Explorable.

Table 1. Demographics



Academic Status​

Academic Program


Private Liberal Arts​

n = 2 female

n = 2 White, non-


n = 2 senior undergrad​

n = 2 BSN

n = 2 traditional ​

Site 1 Public USG​

n = 8 female​

n = 2 White, non-


n = 6 Black

n = 4 first year scholars​

n = 3 sophomore​

n = 1 senior student

n = 5 pre-nursing

n = 2 pre-med

n = 1 BSN

n = 8 traditional ​

Site 2 Public USG​

n = 2 female​

n = 1 male​

n = 2 White​

n = 1 Black ​

n = 2 junior ​

n = 1 graduate (education)​

n = 2 BSN

n = 1 Master of Education (MEd) education in speech-language pathology

n = 2 traditional​

n = 1 nontraditional ​



n = 12 female​

n = 1 male​

n = 6 White​

n = 7 Black​

n = 12 undergrad​

n = 4 freshman​

n = 3 sophomore​

n = 2 juniors​

n = 3 seniors ​

n = 1 graduate (final year MEd in speech-language pathology)​

n = 5 pre-nursing

n = 2 pre-med

n = 5 BSN

n = 1 MEd in speech-language pathology

n = 12 traditional​

n = 1 nontraditional ​

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