A Model for an Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Research Program

Julie Legler, Paul Roback, Kathryn Ziegler-Graham, James Scott, Sharon Lane-Getaz, Matthew Riche
The American Statistician

In the May 2009 issue of The American Statistician, Brown and Kass (BK) offered thought-provoking answers to the question "What is Statistics?" which have direct implications for statistics education. For five years, St. Olaf College's Center for Interdisciplinary Research's (CIR) activities have aligned with BK in both philosophy and practice. We describe the program's motivation and design, how we recruit students and find faculty collaborators with suitable projects, and how the teams of faculty and students work together. A research skills seminar series parallels the research process and prepares students for working on teams. Inevitably, administrative issues arose which we identify and address. Landes (2009) identified significant issues related to recruiting. Our model of undergraduate education has proved to be fruitful on this front. Sending nearly 50 students to graduate school in five years from a college of fewer than 3000 speaks to the program's efficacy. Here we present a program based on authentic interdisciplinary research with undergraduates which embodies many of BK's ideas and addresses recruiting issues. Although this experience underscores the potential for new and exciting approaches to statistics education in the liberal arts environment, the model itself can be adapted by a variety of undergraduate programs. Supplemental materials are available online.