Fostering research and scholarship opportunities for faculty and students can yield astonishingly positive results: Research and scholarship strengthen teaching, attract and retain outstanding faculty, and enhance the academic reputation and visibility of Willamette as an institution of academic excellence. Opportunities for student research also create meaningful learning experiences outside the traditional classroom setting that are formative as well as applicable in “real world” settings beyond a student’s undergraduate experience.
While this edition of The Scene takes a look at research and scholarship, particularly in the sciences, at Willamette today, research has always been an important part of Willamette’s undergraduate experience.
In 1954, two Willamette University alumni, Gerald Pearson ’26 and Daryl Chapin ’27, along with a third colleague, developed the modern solar (photovoltaic) cell at Bell Laboratories. Both physics majors, Pearson and Chapin were awarded honorary doctorates by Willamette in 1956 and also received several international awards for their research, including Germany’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize. (Both men sent several of their children to Willamette, and one of Pearson’s great-grandchildren graduated from the University in 2001.) Interestingly, this is the same type of solar cell contemplated for use in the new Kaneko Commons residential facility scheduled to open this fall.
Today, as scholars recognize the connectivity of ideas and issues, the nature of research itself is slowly transforming from discreet disciplines toiling in isolated “silos” to a more connected, holistic approach. Collaborative research is becoming more and more the norm, often creating circumstances where faculty and students from quite disparate disciplines may work together.
At Willamette, a wide variety of collaborative projects are continually being explored, from economists and environmental scientists studying the economic value of healthy ecosystems, to faculty from the French and anthropology departments developing and executing the University’s first Africa Day. These projects are instrumental in the development of critical thinking, they enrich the student experience at Willamette, and, of course, they seek to achieve the primary goal of scholarship: to make significant academic contributions in a particular discipline or disciplines, thereby advancing civilization.
I am impressed and amazed at the creativity and initiative demonstrated by faculty and students in their scholarship endeavors. From among the many innovative and interesting projects Willamette’s talented scholars have recently undertaken, we have selected a few for this edition of The Scene that I believe illustrate the important role research and scholarship play in a liberal arts education.
M. Lee Pelton