Faculty Mini Grants Give Students Hands-On Immersive Learning Experiences

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At RIC, emphasis is on student-centered learning, and it’s being backed by funding from the RIC Foundation.

The Rhode Island College Foundation has generously provided mini grants (up to $2,000) to support faculty projects focused on student engagement. 

This funding opportunity was initiated by RIC Foundation Board President Joyce Stevos, who is also a three-time RIC alumna (’65, ’97 and ’05).

According to Stevos, “We had funds at the Foundation to support faculty research in our budget, but it had not been used for some time. When the college emphasized student engagement in teaching and learning as part of its strategic plan, I asked the Board to repurpose those funds to support faculty in developing more hands-on learning opportunities for students.”

Faculty who receive mini grants create projects that either:

  • Enhance student-faculty interaction
  • Involve service learning
  • Involve creative works
  • Promote civic engagement
  • Support student attendance at professional conferences or
  • Provide financial support for student internships.

This year, 11 faculty members were awarded. (See list of recipients below.) Eight used their grants to fund student attendance at professional conferences. Monies could be used to cover conference registration fees, travel, food and/or housing.

With her grant, Associate Professor of Physics Medini Padmanabhan supported the attendance of a team of six physical science majors at the Material Research Society Fall Meeting. This is a five-day, virtual, international conference featuring cutting-edge material science research.

Padmanabhan’s students attended various talks that aligned with their interests; and in February, three of the students presented what they learned at the departmental colloquium.

The experience paid off as far as student engagement, she says. “I believe that exploring shared interests and making new discoveries outside the classroom environment was invigorating for the attendees.”

At other conferences, RIC students delivered poster presentations based on research they conducted under the supervision of the faculty member.

Professor of Nursing Joanne Costello used her mini grant to pay for the attendance of RIC graduate student Ruth DeMelo at the Association of Community Health Nurse Educators Conference. Held in June, DeMelo will fly out to Chicago for the conference and deliver a poster presentation of her plan for a diabetes program tailored to the Hispanic population.

“At the conference, not only will Ruth be able to enhance her knowledge about population/public health interventions, including new evidence-based interventions in diabetes education, she will have the opportunity to engage with population/public health professionals to learn the latest trends in public health nursing education,” says Costello.

Attending conferences remain one of the best ways to engage students. It allows them to share their ideas, get valuable feedback, learn new ideas outside their field of expertise and network with peers.

Foundation mini grants included funding for Faculty of Arts and Sciences students who are required to complete an internship to fulfill their degree. An internship is an immersive method of engaging students in learning. However, faculty recognize that many internship positions are unpaid and that often students need to work during the semester. This grant offers $1,500 stipends for undergraduates participating in an internship.

Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies David Ramirez funded the internship of five students at Rhode Island Latino Arts (RILA). Their internship will culminate in a student art exhibit in the Fall, during Hispanic Heritage Month. The exhibit will feature RILA’s collection of Latino oral histories gathered over the last 30 years.

Intern Jacki Estrada, an art history major, described his experience at RILA this way: “To be able to see firsthand how oral histories are collected and put together is an experience that no lecture or textbook can teach or prepare us for. It not only brings awareness of what people have built in the past but also develops a desire to do more for our community.”

In fact, learning by doing was the goal of Assistant Professor of Nursing Linda Mendonca, who used her mini grant to engage students in a disaster simulation.

“A disaster simulation creates a ‘no-fault’ learning environment that gives our clinical nursing students the opportunity to be exposed to a disaster scenario where they have to respond, triage and care for the victims,” she says.

In essence, faculty mini grants allowed students to engage in hands-on, real-world experiences and to take ownership of their own learning.

According to Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Carolynn Masters, “Engaging students in the learning process increases their attention and focus and moves them to more critical thinking. Research has shown that students who are engaged in the learning process, connect more deeply with the professor and the material and ultimately the material is retained at a higher rate.”

“We are pleased with the results of these grants,” says Stevos, “and look forward to continuing our support.”

2023-24 Mini Grant Recipients: 

Professor of Nursing Lynn Blanchette
Professor of Nursing Joanne Costello
Professor of History Erik Christiansen
Professor of Counseling and Educational Psychology Shannon Dowd-Eagle
Professor of Counseling and Educational Psychology Jenlyn Furey
Professor of Political Science Robyn Linde
Assistant Professor of Nursing Linda Mendonca
Professor of Physical Sciences Medini Padmanabhan 
Professor of Biology Larissa Patterson
Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies David Ramirez
Professor of Sociology Alessandra Bazo Vienrich