The College of Wooster is nationally recognized for its program of Independent Study, and for more than fifty years the College has required that every graduate complete a significant Independent Study project. The capacity for individual inquiry and expression marks the liberally educated person, and the Independent Study program at Wooster provides an opportunity through which this capacity may be nurtured. Independent Study provides all students the opportunity to engage in an activity both personally meaningful and appropriate to their individual fields and interests. It is not reserved for the few. Independent Study is the culmination of a Wooster education and provides the basis for a lifetime of independent learning.
Students begin in their first year to develop their abilities in writing, reading, and critical thinking required for the project and explore various areas of intellectual interest. Ideas for Independent Study are stimulated not only by course work in the major but also by courses in other areas, informal exchanges with faculty and students, visiting lectures, arts events, off-campus study, volunter work, and internship experiences. Students beginning Independent Study are assigned a faculty advisor to serve as mentor, guide, and critic.
Department or curriculum committee chairpersons will assign advisors after consultation with the student and appropriate faculty and consideration of the topic the student wishes to investigate. Students work closely with their advisors through regularly scheduled conferences designed to assist, encourage, and challenge the participants and to afford both students and advisors an opportunity to share the excitement of discovery and expression in fields of mutual interest. Learning is approached as an exploration shared by student and advisor alike, neither having all the answers, but each enjoying immensely the opportunity to search for solutions.
The study of biology at Wooster culminates with three courses of Independent Study. Each student works one-on-one with a faculty member to develop a proposal, complete a yearlong research project, and write a thesis based on the results. In these individualized research experiences, students develop the capacity for self-education, problem solving, and effective communication. Students commonly conduct their Independent Study research on campus, but many have worked off campus in conjunction with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (Wooster), the National Institutes of Health and Mental Health (Bethesda, Md.), The Cleveland Clinic, or in a variety of NSF-sponsored Undergraduate Research Experiences across the country. Biology I.S. projects cover a wide range of topics, including the effects of air pollution on lichen populations, the role of the protein neurontin-1 in mediating hyperexcitation of cultured nerve cells, and the elucidation of gene function using RNA interference. Student projects have tracked the factors contributing to range restriction of Blanchard’s cricket frog in Ohio, explored the role of early experience in development of the stress response in wild animals, and developed a yeast-based assay to explore the function of pathogen proteins. Wooster under¬graduates have published their research in such journals as Evolution, Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology, Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, The Journal of Avian Biology, and the Journal of Neurology, and regularly present their results at professional meetings such as the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, the Ecological Society of America, the Endocrine Society, and the Society for Neuroscience, or at workshops and symposia.