The Real World

We Are Redefining What Undergraduate Education Means at Rutgers

Richard L. McCormick, President
As published in the Winter 05’ issue of Rutgers Magazine

While many elements of today’s undergraduate academic experience—from choosing a major to the late-semester rush to study for exams—are the same as they were decades ago, one truly significant change is taking shape at Rutgers. Now more and more students are conducting original research alongside professors, completing internships, or engaging in structured community service.

Experiential learning—particularly undergraduate research—is important to achieving two fundamental ambitions I have articulated for Rutgers’ future: enhancing our distinction as a research university that attracts the very best students and faculty, and putting our academic excellence to work beyond our campuses.

To make this happen, Rutgers is pursuing a vision that builds on our academic strengths in core disciplines such as history, chemistry, business, education, biology, music, engineering, and more. These are the fields in which our students must be liberally educated in preparation for all that their lives will hold. But the problems and challenges that confront society do not always fit neatly within any one field, so our faculty increasingly teach and do research across the traditional boundaries of their disciplines. Our vision for Rutgers’ future encourages these efforts by both students and faculty and seeks to transmit the practical results of our interdisciplinary research far beyond our campuses to where it is needed in New Jersey, the nation, and the world.

Take nutrition, a topic of increasing interest as our nation faces an epidemic of obesity. Rutgers is emerging as a leader in the field, with historic strength in Cook College, which long ago established the country’s first Department of Nutritional Sciences. Our students and faculty are also approaching this issue from the perspective of other fields, such as molecular biology, genetics, chemistry, pharmacy, psychology, and public policy. We are working across disciplines and collaborating with other universities around the world. Our goal is not only to conduct vital interdisciplinary research on obesity, diabetes, and related issues but also to have that research make a real and lasting difference in the way people think about their diets and eating habits.

Student research will contribute to our nutrition studies, just as it will support other critical areas on which Rutgers will focus attention and resources, such as transportation, stem cell research, and children’s issues. To encourage this work, we are undertaking an initiative that will enable undergraduates to benefit from faculty mentors, learn about research opportunities, and apply for research funding. A generous gift from Jerome (RC’51) and Lorraine Aresty will help establish this program (see page 45 for a related story). Our students will spend the rest of their lives creating and applying new knowledge; this program will help us get them started while they are here at Rutgers.

Research has long been a characteristic of graduate and professional education at Rutgers; now it must become central to the education our undergraduates receive.

“From the President,” a regular column by President Richard L. McCormick, debuts in the Winter '05 issue of Rutgers Magazine. This column is based on President McCormick’s Second Annual Address to the University Community.