by Justin Wadland
Students in the Global Honors Program have submitted over 40 undergraduate theses and many of these titles appear in the list of the most downloaded papers in UW Tacoma Digital Commons. At the end of each year, all students who achieve a 3.7 GPA or higher are automatically invited to add their papers to the collection.
When the collection was created in 2012, Global Honors was the first program on the UW Tacoma campus to begin systematically providing online access to student work. Executive Director Divya McMillin and Program Administrator Paul Carrington discussed some of the unexpected ways that students have benefited from sharing their work through Digital Commons.
Justin Wadland: How does sharing the Global Honors Capstones through Digital Commons support the goals of your program?
Divya McMillin: With the capstone project, we want students to explore an issue in-depth that has global implications. The global aspect of the project focuses on the dynamics of interdependencies and interconnections, and the students investigate questions that are compelling to communities locally and across the world, grounding their work in specific cultural contexts and locations. The capstone demonstrates an understanding of these global dynamics and has academic rigor through the breadth and quality of the research.
In a broader view, we also want our students to be public intellectuals. The important question for us is: What is the impact and value of the work? Often the capstones investigate a line of inquiry down to a specific action. We’re looking for transformation in the students themselves and transformation in communities that they’re writing about.
In 2012, we were considering the legacy of these projects and how they fit into the larger academic community. We initially explored creating a Global Honors journal, but after doing extensive research, we realized the complexity of such an undertaking. Around that same time, Digital Commons became available, and we were impressed with it. It’s a simple, high value way for getting our students’ work out there.
How has putting the Global Honors Theses into Digital Commons changed the students’ relationship to their own work?
Divya McMillin: We really encourage the students to see their work as having an impact beyond the classroom. It’s a supportive process, but we want to challenge the students as scholars. By the time they are ready to write their theses, the students see what the value of the capstone is to them. Once it’s available in Digital Commons, it becomes a credential that can help them in applying for graduate school or in any professional career.
Even when their work is eligible for submission, the process isn’t over because they get extensive feedback from us before it goes online. This is important to us because it’s not just their name on the paper but the names of the program and the faculty advisors.
Digital Commons is one representative of a thoughtful, collaborative community process, and it shows not just the students but all of those involved what goes into knowledge production. We really want to make sure that everything that’s out there is valid and substantiated.
What have been some of the unexpected outcomes of having the projects available in Digital Commons?
Paul Carrington: One of our students was recruited to a doctoral program at University of Chicago after a professor there found her paper in Digital Commons. I got the call early one morning. Because the student had developed considerable expertise in her subject area, the professor saw her as a candidate for a research assistant and wanted to get in touch. I connected the student with the professor. She ultimately turned down the opportunity because she was already settling into a very successful career path here, but this wouldn’t have happened if the paper wasn’t online. This is a remarkable example, but it demonstrates how making the work more widely available enables students to make connections through their outstanding work.
Divya McMillin: Also, I should mention a new way we are using these capstones. We are building a Directed Research Program and want to be more deliberate about guiding students to grounded and community-relevant research questions that arise from both global contexts as well as the global port city of Tacoma. The members of our Advisory Board are asked to engage in conversations with representatives from various professional areas in the community to identify questions or topics that would be valuable to them and their organizations. In that process, one Board member is sweeping Digital Commons to see what’s been explored in Global Honors theses already. We’ve identified two sets of questions, one from the community and another from the past theses. Through this, we’re offering current students both a starting point for their own projects as well as opening up for them, areas where their research will have a direct impact. This front-end guidance provides deeper support for the student research journey and paves the way for mentor-relationships and various experiential learning opportunities based on the question or questions picked up.