Shannon O'Connor had trouble finding student research opportunities. For proposing a central on-line clearinghouse of such opportunities on campus, O'Connor has become the latest and last President's Challenge winner.
"I contacted about 20 professors; most of them weren't able to take on an undergraduate research student. They just didn't have the funding or the opportunity for it," said O'Connor. "It was a big burden on me and on them to respond even though they weren't able to take on a research assistant. I thought something that lists the research opportunities that were available would be really great both for students and for faculty."
U of C Associate Vice-President of Student Affairs Dr. Peggy Patterson agrees that such a service would be valuable.
"Research services does an excellent job providing that kind of information, but I don't think we as an intuition have done as much as we can," said Patterson. "Undergraduate students need ways to link to resources and grants that they might not have known about."
O'Connor is the final winner of the President's Challenge, established in 1995 to encourage students to develop and submit proposals on how to improve the university. Although several hundred proposals have been submitted to date, the university believes there are now better ways to directly address students' ideas.
"The President's Challenge was set up at a time when there wasn't as much of an opportunity as there is now for students to have a voice in what would improve the quality of their experience," said Patterson. "The necessity of having another program to do this when [the Students' Union and Graduate Students' Association] have a direct pipeline to the decision makers didn't seem necessary."
In 2004 and this year, the Board of Governors allocated lump sums of quality money to the SU and GSA to fund student quality initiatives. Although Patterson wants to ensure the SU continues to solicit and offer ideas that would benefit all students, U of C President Dr. Harvey Weingarten has been pleased with the quality initiative so far.
"This is the second year we've done it, and not only have we been not disappointed, it's worked incredibly well," said Weingarten. "They not only tell us things, what's been good, but we actually find ways of working with the students to do more than we could ever do alone."
Patterson reiterated that the university will continue to seek student input as an ongoing part of its Academic Plan.
"The university and the Board of Governors have made a commitment to work with students," said Patterson. "The absolute and the percentage they get may change year to year, but certainly for now, I certainly feel the administration of the university and the Board of Governors are in support of giving students resources and then allowing them the freedom to determine how to allocate them."
SU Vice-President Academic Laura Schultz is ambivalent about ending the President's Challenge.
"I think it's sad because it doesn't allow the average student to come out and apply for something and try to win an award," she said. "At the same time, it's also entrenching the process of the quality money, trying to ensure that student initiatives and the enhancement of quality as an ongoing thing, rather than just a contest that results in a project that may or may not be implemented."