The departments of Biological Systems Engineering (BSE), Theatre Arts, and History received the university's 2004 Exemplary Department Awards during ceremonies on Nov. 4.

"These departments were recognized for their work in effectively linking research and scholarship with teaching, with particular concentration on innovative undergraduate programs," said Ron Daniel, associate provost for undergraduate education, who oversees the awards program.

President Charles Steger and Provost Mark McNamee presented BSE with $10,000 and Theatre Arts and History with $5,000 each. Each department also received a plaque.

Department of Biological Systems Engineering

Residing in both the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering, Biological Systems Engineering incorporates research and hands-on experience into its undergraduate curriculum, which is ranked 11th in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

Each summer, BSE conducts the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates program, which teaches students about the research process and encourages them to pursue graduate studies. "This program has effectively linked undergraduate education with research and scholarship, impacting not only our graduate program, but those of many other universities," said Saied Mostaghimi, department head.

The department also hires many of its students to work in its research laboratories and provides unpaid internships for others. Students who nominated the department for the award stressed the importance of the faculty-student interaction, noting that faculty members put student understanding of the project before the completion of the work, making it possible to learn much more.

The department makes a concerted effort to enhance its curriculum. For example, several BSE faculty members collaborated with engineering-education faculty and education/academic assessment on a proposal to reformulate selected existing curricula and received $1 million from the National Science Foundation to execute the proposal.

More than 30 percent of BSE students gain research experience as undergraduates.

Department of Theatre Arts, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences

Professors in Theatre Arts collaborate with each other and with their students, linking faculty research with student learning. The students engage in all levels of theatre production and experience the rigor and intensity of research application. The research specialties of the faculty--from lighting and sound to audience engagement--focus in a collaborative way on an investigation process that lies at the core of teaching. The result is a vital and symbiotic relationship that melds teaching and research with theatrical production and classroom experiences.

The department's curriculum fully integrates learning and research. Course content feeds directly into what is examined and tested in the laboratory, which is the theatre stage. For example, a poetry class evolved into a new play--Ear and I and Silence.

Or a play can feed directly into what is examined in the classroom. The Laramie Project, for example, generated class conversations and presentations.

In 1999-2000, the department brought internationally acclaimed theatre creator and director Ping Chong to campus to team-teach undergraduate performance courses. Working with students and faculty members, Chong created a new theatre production, Truth and Beauty. He will return this semester to create another new work.

The department involves all of its majors in research over the course of a production season.

Department of History, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences

The Department of History has a distinguished record of innovation in its undergraduate programs, and its professors have long cultivated links between their research and scholarship and the department's undergraduate curriculum.

Through collaboration and by using instructional technology, the department has developed what it calls "digital history," a new approach to teaching large sections of United States history. The project has relied on constant interaction between professors and students and has earned two major grants and a contract to distribute the resulting digital reader to high schools and universities across the country.

A team of faculty members secured a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to continue developing the online U.S. history modules and to add European history modules. The department provides summer internships for its majors to work on the project.

The use of digital materials to introduce new historical scholarship is evident throughout the department, from junior-level Latin American courses to an NEH and Mellon-supported "Virtual Jamestown" project, as well as a new project to create an online index of Civil War newspapers.

To emphasize student involvement in its programs, the department offers three prizes that recognize the results of student research, including the Digital History Prize for the best paper utilizing digital technology and online resources.