Jason Ritchie, associate professor of chemistry and assistant dean of undergraduate research at the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, learned firsthand the benefits of undergraduate research.
Ritchie earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1994 at the University of California at San Diego. Under the mentorship of an excellent adviser, Ritchie performed research on conducting polymers, an experience that revealed to him a much broader, deeper and more exciting comprehension of chemistry.
“To be able to get my hands on a real-world project really helped me understand what was going on in my classes,” Ritchie said. “You could look at my transcript and see a marked change in my grades when I started doing undergraduate research. Since then, I’ve always worked with undergrads.”
Thanks to these experiences, Ritchie was eager to take on the new role of assistant dean of undergraduate research in 2012. In the position, Ritchie will work to streamline the Honors College thesis process and at the same time create an infrastructure for undergraduate research that will allow all students, regardless of their school or major, to have greater access to undergraduate research opportunities.
“One of the things I’m working on is a database for students to be able to plug in ideas and be able to see what faculty work in that area and what kinds of projects they are working on, and what other theses honors students have done—trying to facilitate this contact between student and adviser.
“In my experience the undergraduates are really creative about coming up with ideas and then what’s more difficult is the practical aspects of finding an adviser, the mechanical details. If I can help them with those mechanical details I have every confidence they can come up with the ideas.”
During his years advising Honors College students, Ritchie has seen students thrive while working on their senior research projects. The projects challenge them beyond normal coursework.
“It’s a capstone project for their undergraduate career,” he said. “It takes all this theoretical knowledge they have learned in their classes and puts it all together for this project where they learn something new that no one has ever discovered before, and they have to apply what they have learned in their classes to the project.”
Ritchie believes all Ole Miss undergraduates are ready for the challenge of research.
“I try to make all I do applicable to all students in the university,” he said. “We have the capacity in laboratories and with faculty across campus to do these projects; it’s just a matter of finding these opportunities. Coming up with a way to connect students to these opportunities is really important.”