For years I had heard anecdotal evidence that students benefitted from doing serious research while undergraduates. I was told that it built confidence as well as various academic skills, such as critical thinking and writing among others. Admittedly, I was intrigued, and, when I was approached by Patrice Giese from the McNair Program over a decade ago, I was ready to try it. What no one had told me was how rewarding the experience is to the mentor of the undergraduate students doing research. It is certainly stimulating to discuss issues with them and to hear their perspectives, which often differ from mine and, frequently, encourage me to do more reading or to re-examine my own thinking. The most exciting moments for me are when students discover the joys of doing primary research and see connections between their research and their reading. I have been very fortunate in being able to mentor at least one student a year and feel that the experience enriches my own academic life.
My latest mentee is Sashay Schettler, a student from the Three Affiliated Tribes. She has embarked on doing research on Native language revitalization, a project that carries a certain urgency since many Native languages are threatened with extinction. There is only one fluent speaker of Mandan, one of the languages formerly spoken on the Fort Berthold Reservation, left. At present Sashay is inventorying existing programs, but she is also very much aware of the culturally specific needs for a successful language revitalization. Sashay's enthusiasm for her research is infectious, and I am looking forward to seeing how her research will develop and what conclusions she will reach.