Expanding the Reach of Student Research

by Maureen Zegel

A renewed emphasis on conducting and presenting undergraduate and graduate research is underway at Maryville, supported by a group of cross-disciplinary faculty like Dustin Nadler, PhD, assistant professor of psychology. For him, the intersection of teaching and research became important when he was a college student, and that enduring passion has made Nadler a better teacher, he says.

“Research brought to life what I was reading and learning in my classes,” he says. “Many of my studies over the years have focused on promoting learning and retention for all students, including those who may be considered at risk. I think that research has made me a better teacher.”

Nadler shares that passion not only with his own students—helping them hone their skills in critical thinking.

“I do a lot of research on student perceptions and how those influence their decision-making,” Nadler says, “Specifically, I focus on the interplay of factors that influence their grade point average and their likelihood to stay at the university.”

Those perceptions include how they fit in socially and academically, belief of their ability, mindset, goals, motivation for attending college and choosing their major.

“My research lab students are very interested in these factors as it is important to them,” Nadler says. “In this way, the research they do is important, not only for learning to do research, but for their success at the university as well.”

Nadler also does research work surrounding diversity issues and student success and how perceptions of race and gender factor into hiring decisions.

Over the past year, he collaborated with several colleagues to revitalize Maryville’s Student Research and Scholarship Day. Six of his students presented either posters and or an oral presentation at the research event. The range of topics included “Religiosity: A Socially Acceptable Way to Influence our Development of Autonomy” and “Predicting Academic Help Seeking Behaviors in College Students.”

Nadler also serves as faculty advisor to the Social Science Research Organization at Maryville, which each year helps raise money for students to travel to Chicago and present posters at the prestigious Midwestern Psychological Association annual conference, one of the largest such conferences in the country. Funding for the experience is also provided by Maryville Student Government, the College of Arts and Sciences and the department of social sciences.

“Presenting your work as an undergraduate can be intimidating,” says Nadler. “And when it’s at a conference like MPA, it can even be scarier. But then you discover that your research compares favorably with students from huge state schools, and you realize you have the ability to compete with them. It builds confidence, especially when applying to graduate programs.”

The trip to Chicago is yet another valuable learning tool.

“It’s one of those professional experiences you can’t learn in the classroom,” Nadler says.