Liberal Arts Research Collaborative in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (LARC 2.0)

The three-year pilot phase (2010-2013) of LARC demonstrated the pedagogical, creative, and scholarly value of undergraduate students and faculty working together in interdisciplinary research communities during the summer. LARC 2.0 extends research experiences throughout the curriculum so that Willamette students regularly find research opportunities with faculty in their classrooms and are well prepared to do research in their senior year. LARC 2.0 has two major components: Summer Research Communities and Curricular Innovation.

Summer Research Communities

The objectives of the Mellon-funded Liberal Arts Research Collaborative (LARC) Summer Research Communities are:

  • to provide selected undergraduate students a collaborative research experience during the summer
  • to support faculty scholarship by facilitating student-faculty collaboration
  • to foster intellectual conversation across disciplinary and generational boundaries
  • to generate best practices for collaborative faculty-student research in the arts, humanities, and social sciences

The program runs nine weeks. Faculty members and students receive stipends to support their work. Currently there is funding to provide support for approximately six faculty members and twelve students for each of the next three summers (beginning in the summer of 2015).

Student-Faculty Collaboration

The centerpiece of the student experience is a stand-alone research project resulting in a substantial final product that reflects the student’s original work. Students will develop these projects in close consultation with a faculty mentor who will also devote the summer to research and reflection in an area topically, thematically, or methodologically related to the student project. Various concerns shared by the two projects will provide a context for discussion and greatly increase the opportunities for meaningful collaboration. While it is expected that each student’s work will contribute to his or her faculty mentor’s ongoing research project, student projects must also exhibit their own expressive, interpretive, and analytical independence. Thus, while the work of a LARC 2.0 student will be closely connected to the research project of his or her mentor, the student’s role will far exceed that of a traditional research assistant. LARC 2.0 students are expected to produce a substantial final project that satisfies the expectations of their chosen field of inquiry (i.e. a body of artistic work, a performance, a research paper, a web-based project, etc.) and deliver an oral presentation at an on-campus symposium in September.

Research Communities

One distinctive feature of LARC 2.0 is that it expands the traditional boundaries of student-faculty research by requiring every project to be conducted within the confines of a research community comprised of at least two faculty members and at least four students. These communities are required to meet at least six times during the summer in order to explore the interconnections between projects and to discuss the “big questions” around which the research community is built. By providing an abstracted and enlarged context for individual research projects, these communities will help faculty and students comprehend and articulate the broader issues and larger stakes of their more narrowly-focused, individual inquiries. At the end of the summer, these communities will be asked to reflect upon how their work together helped shape each project individually.

Curricular Innovation

LARC 2.0 aims to bring the advantages of an inquiry-based, research-rich curriculum to every Willamette undergraduate through three types of curricular innovation:

I.  Inquiry-based modules:

What/Why: Inquiry-based modules enrich existing course offerings at the gateway and intermediate levels within the major program. A module might be defined as a unit within a course including one or more assignments. In lower-level courses, a module might introduce the notion of what constitutes research in a field and ways to use published scholarship to answer one’s own questions, while at the intermediate level the same aspect of learning to be a researcher might focus on how new scholarship modifies earlier scholarship. Similarly, a module might prepare students to ask appropriate research-able questions, or to develop research methodologies. Priority will be given to projects that involve Digital Liberal Arts.

Grants: LARC will support the development of modules for 12 courses each year, some of them arising from summer collaborative experiences, some of them from independent proposals. Each module will follow a prescribed format:

  • clear and precise articulation of student learning outcomes,
  • an inquiry-based learning intervention (inquiry-based pedagogical activity or set of activities/assignments),
  • description of a meaningful instrument designed to assess gains to student learning.

Priority/Additional support for digital liberal arts projects: We particularly encourage faculty to propose modules that engage Digital Liberal Arts pedagogy. To that end, we also encourage faculty to consider applying to attend DHSI (Digital Humanities Summer Institute). We've expanded that category of the grant so that we can support 4 or 5 people a year.  For more information, please visit DHSI website:

II.  Redesigned Courses:

The Willamette faculty has long sought opportunities and sustainable models for interdisciplinary teaching. LARC 2.0 supports several models for developing student-faculty research communities that will make meaningful and lasting penetration into and impact on the Willamette curriculum.

1.  Priority Category: Capstone Courses:

What/Why: Senior theses in the arts, humanities, and human sciences at Willamette are defined primarily as independent studies supervised by a faculty member from the major department, with students meeting together for instruction on library research, project management, peer review of drafts, and oral presentations of work in progress. A minority of these students, between 20 and 30 each year, complete their senior theses in Humanities Seminars. Here, students meet in a seminar around a single text of major significance and each writes a thesis on that text. LARC 2.0 recognizes the success of the Humanities Seminar model and seeks to expand it to other senior capstones in several ways.

Grants: Priority funding status will be given to proposals for thematic capstone courses for fourth-year students, some of which may derive from summer research communities. LARC 2.0 will also support faculty members whose project in a summer research collaborative is focused on course development that extends the work begun in the summer with two students to a seminar of eight or more students. LARC 2.0 will also fund proposals for redesign of senior capstone courses that engage in student-faculty research independent of summer research collaborations.

2.  College Colloquium:

Successful proposals for redesigned courses may also be directed to the beginning of the Willamette curriculum, the College Colloquium. All sections of College Colloquium meet at one of two scheduled hours, making collaborations between sections logistically simple.

3.  Intermediate level Clusters:

Clusters at the intermediate level merge the concepts of research communities and learning communities (in which students are enrolled together in two or more courses).

III.  Program Revision:

What/Why: LARC 2.0 will support program revision aimed at scaffolding instruction and experiences in research. Program faculty will be supported to spend significant time on studying best practices, consulting with experts in undergraduate research, and thoroughly examining their own program outcomes and assessments. Examples of curriculum revision at the program level include:

  • infusion of more strategically-placed (i.e., earlier in program curriculum) research-relevant course offerings;
  • rearrangement and subsequent testing of existing program curricula to engage students in research more frequently, thereby better preparing them for available summer research opportunities;
  • repositioning of capstone experiences relative to methodology coursework so as to better prepare students for their respective senior experience(s).

Program revision could result in subsequent proposals for course enrichment through inquiry-based modules.

Grants: The goal of improving curriculum at the program level will serve as the driving force behind funding decisions made in support of this form of curricular innovation.