Undergrad Research Lab

A Unique Undergraduate Experience

Thinking outside the box, an Administration of Justice professor creates a unique academic based student space with priceless value to those utilizing it

By: Rachel Olszewski

When he received an internal grant from the Penn State University Office of Undergraduate Admissions, Rick Dierenfeldt bucked the norm of exhausting the funds on a single project. Instead, he rolled the grant into eight faculty/student collaborations and put the idea of undergraduate research on the map at Penn State Wilkes-Barre.

“Once I had received the funds, I consulted with the Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Albert Lozano-Nieto,” explains Dierenfeldt, Assistant Professor in the Administration of Justice program. “My ultimate goal was to open the first undergraduate research office at Penn State Wilkes-Barre with the funding but knew there would be many steps to take prior to that being accomplished. With this in mind, Dr. Lozano and I determined that this office would open to any student from any academic program who was involved in a research collaboration with a faculty member.”

Room 109 of the Science Building was selected and re-purposed from a storage room to accommodate the development of a permanent office for undergraduate research. With the assistance of Physical Plant, surplus office equipment, including desks and chairs, was located and transferred to the office. Information Technology Services were able to locate three surplus desktop computers (minus monitors), which were re-allocated to the undergraduate research office.

“Cumulatively, these efforts maximized cost-effectiveness and overall ‘reach’ of the internal funding; allowing for the purchase of additional equipment and software that would facilitate quantitative and qualitative research opportunities at Penn State Wilkes-Barre,” states Dierenfeldt.

The undergraduate research office became fully operational during the first week of the Spring 2017 semester and currently maintains a total of 3 workstations. As of May 2017, it has been utilized by 11 students for approximately 176 hours on a total of 8 faculty/student research collaborations with Dierenfeldt and Dr. Renee Rosier, Assistant Professor of Biology.

“I think the use of an undergraduate research office has really rounded out my experience at Penn State Wilkes-Barre,” says Ingrid Ritchie, a Spring 2017 Administration of Justice graduate. “It has given myself and other students who use it a place that is their own to complete schoolwork and research. I also feel that it gives something similar to the kind of work spaces available at University Park. Although it is small in capacity, I feel this is a benefit. As the space and number of students increase, so will distractions.”

“Believe it or not, the undergrad research office has not only helped me complete all of my assignments on time, it has also helped me become closer with my fellow students,” explains Jesse Ragugini, an Administration of Justice student. “It was a great place for us to meet up in the beginning of our days and help each other work on assignments or just talk about what was going on in our lives. I am thankful Rick was able to create this lab for us and I hope others use it to their advantage like we did.”

“I think one of the most important things to note is that each of these students who utilized the lab for research with Renee and myself serves as a co-author rather than a research assistant,” praises Dierenfeldt. “Three of these projects were recognized at the 4th Annual Celebration of Scholarship as best poster presentations in their respective fields, while 2 have been accepted for full paper presentations at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology in November 2017.”

Ritchie summarizes it best, “I truly believe the undergraduate research office is as unique as my entire undergraduate experience has been at Penn State Wilkes-Barre.”