January 15, 2002
Freshman scholars program personalizes undergrad experience
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Purdue's School of Health Sciences is taking the university's mission to attract and retain the best and brightest students one step further by putting its top freshman into collaborative study opportunities with faculty members and each other.
Each year since 1986, the Freshman Scholars Program has identified incoming students who have demonstrated high scholastic ability, intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm for learning. These freshman are then matched with a Purdue professor or a local professional to work on original research projects in an area of study that is of special interest to them.
"There is a misperception that a big university like Purdue does not offer much in the way of individual attention and personalized study opportunities for freshmen," said James McGlothlin, an associate professor of health sciences who serves as a faculty mentor in the program. "The Freshman Scholars Program puts students into collaborative relationships with faculty from the moment they step on campus."
Other schools on the Purdue campus have similar programs for standout freshman, including the schools of Science, Nursing and Liberal Arts.
McGlothlin's own research in ergonomics has included health science freshman scholars for the past three years. Working in conjunction with Dr. Carl D. Griffin, the director of occupational health services for the Arnett Clinic in Lafayette, Ind., McGlothlin and his students have conducted work site evaluations for eight local companies that resulted in new ergonomic controls to help minimize the number of physical problems experienced by workers.
In return for the professional expertise, the companies fund freshman scholars scholarships.
"It's a win-win situation for the companies involved because not only do they get a valuable service in the form of our evaluations and recommendations, they also get to contribute to the student's education," McGlothlin says.
Chris Wybourn, a 2001 freshman scholar from Mokena, Ill., says the occupational ergonomics project is allowing him to put some of his premed coursework into practice right away.
"Not only have I been able to participate in the clinical observation of patients at Dr. Griffin's office, I have also visited the workplaces where these repetitive injuries were occurring," Wybourn says. "It's really allowed me to see the immediate applications of my studies."
Dr. Griffin, a former premed student on Purdue's West Lafayette campus, understands the impact of such hands-on experience on future medical professionals.
"There is great value in integrating clinical experience very early in an academic career in terms of the decisions students will have to make down the road," he says. "These experiences can pique a student's interest in a particular field of medicine, and they can also help them weed out the areas that may not be right for them which is equally important."
Andy Kersten, a junior from Angola, Ind., was a freshman scholar on McGlothlin's occupational ergonomics research project in 1999 and now serves as a peer mentor for other program participants.
"I recognized very early on that this program was something special, and I wanted to continue to be a part of it after I finished my freshman year," Kersten says. "Being a peer mentor keeps me plugged into the various kinds of research being done in the School of Health Sciences and allows me to share what I've learned about campus life with new students."
Program director Linda Lipschutz believes the social benefits of the program are just as important as the academic ones.
"We take a very holistic view of our freshman scholars," Lipschutz says. "Not only do they learn how exciting original scholarship can be, they are also involved in building their own community within the School of Health Science, and that can help make the move to Purdue a little less daunting."
Jamie Chaffee, a current freshman scholar from Auburn, Ind. agrees.
"I was initially very overwhelmed by the transition from high school to college," Chaffee says. "But the weekly seminars have provided lots of support and enrichment. As a freshman scholar, I've learned to use my time wisely, be creative and understand diversity."
Wybourn, Kersten and Chaffee are general health sciences majors who plan to go on to medical school, but freshman scholars can also major in health physics, industrial hygiene, medical technology, preallied health and prepharmacy.
Participants in the Freshman Scholars Program are selected from applicants who have a combined SAT score of 1250 or an ACT composite score of at least 28. Students who were valedictorian or salutatorian in their high school graduating class also are considered. Each freshman scholar receives a $1,000 merit scholarship and one hour of academic credit each semester for their project work and participation in a seminar course attended by other freshman scholars.
"The seminar course is designed to enrich the freshman year experience by providing for the regular exchange of ideas with other high-achieving students in similar fields of study," McGlothlin says. "Many students make friendships here that last their entire Purdue career. The seminar also includes special workshops throughout the academic year to help students with their projects and studies."
In addition to the occupational ergonomics research project, freshman scholars have participated in a case study on the physical therapy treatment of a cerebral palsy sufferer at a local hospital and studied the release of therapeutic and diagnostic radiopharmaceutical drugs.
"The program is not only an excellent example of what a university education can be for students, but also what university research can do for the local community," McGlothlin says.
Writer: Sharon A. Bowker, (765) 494-9723, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: James McGlothlin, (765) 496-6359, email@example.com
Linda Lipschutz, (765) 494-1393, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Carl Griffin, (765) 448-8657, email@example.com
Chris Wybourn, (765) 495-1865, firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew Kersten, (765) 743-9003, email@example.com
Jamie Chaffee, (765) 495-1746, firstname.lastname@example.org
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; email@example.com