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High Impact Practices Spotlight Series: Undergraduate Research

By Tiffany MacLennan, Maple League Research Fellow and Strategist and Tanisha Campbell, Maple League Student Fellow, Knowledge Mobilization & Community Engagement

In this High Impact Practice Spotlight Series,[1] we hear three incredible examples of undergraduate research at the Maple League. In this spotlight, three professors give insight into the research programs that employ many undergraduate students as research assistants and how undergraduate research complements and enhances pedagogical practices both in and outside of the classroom.

Dr. Geniece Hallett-Tapley – St. Francis Xavier University

One of the focal points of my academic career has been the inclusion of undergraduates in research settings. I truly believe that experiential learning settings provide undergraduate students with skills that are largely beneficial when they continue on to further their education or in the workforce. This pedagogical approach is one that is unique to the Maple League and is one of the main advantages of obtaining an undergraduate education at one of these institutions. I am all too familiar with the benefits of including high impact practices in undergraduate curricula, as an Associate Professor at StFX, as well as my own undergraduate career at Acadia University. From the perspective of my chemistry background, my undergraduate students are exposed to research settings in my classes and my research program. In my senior level classes, I strive to ensure that all of my students are exposed to traditional experimental practices, to ensure that, upon graduation, they are equipped with the necessary knowledge to enable them to be successful. My research program is mostly sustained by undergraduate researchers. These students are able to be at the forefront of experimental design and implementation – uncommon at research institutions. These students quickly become independent in the laboratory setting, gain hands-on experience with a myriad of experimental techniques and are pivotal in the preparation and submission of scientific contributions. Such experiences are what make the scholastic practices of the Maple League institutions unique and enable us to provide some of the best undergraduate educational experiences on a national and, even international, stage.

Dr. Lorne Nelson – Bishop’s University

It is clear that an undergraduate’s level of engagement is strongly correlated with their academic performance and their longer-term success. But how can we accelerate this engagement? My strategy is to offer students thought-provoking lectures that allow them to synthesize their own knowledge through constructivist pedagogy while providing them with the context of how their learning is connected to the ‘big picture’. And for those who show a deep passion and aptitude for the subject, they are introduced to research at an early stage. This has been achieved by hiring them as research assistants, giving them the opportunity to work at top-notch research facilities (e.g., observatories), and by sending them to present their findings at professional conferences. More than 3/4 of those students continued on to graduate school (or professional studies such as medicine) and two were recently awarded the prestigious Vanier Scholarship. Engagement and leadership are the key elements to a successful outcome!

Dr. Juan Carlos Lopez – Acadia University

A collaborative approach has helped me address other aspects of education that deal with pedagogy, inclusion and student success. Two of the laboratory exercises that are now part of our curriculum have been developed in collaboration with upper-year learners as part of research topics courses. One exercise on stress physiology, developed by a student that took the introductory laboratory course and later became a TA for it, presents learners with strategies and campus resources they can use to cope with academic stress. We discuss mental health and campus resources in the context of the human physiological response to stress. A second exercise, recently developed by an indigenous student who had also taken the course, presents Mi’kmaq traditional knowledge in the context of native plant identification. Creating this lab exercise was a meaningful experience for all parties involved and has added a new cultural dimension to an existing first-year laboratory exercise.

[1] The HIP Visibility Project is a part of a larger HIP project conducted by Research Fellow and Strategist Tiffany MacLennan. The goal of the HIP project is to make HIPs more accessible for both faculty and students. For more information about the HIP project or if you would like to participate, please contact Tiffany at

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