Experiential Learning Activities/Projects

Experiential learning activities may take many forms.  Some options include:

•   Chemistry 298, Independent Study,
•   Chemistry 394, Academic Internship.
•   Chemistry 375, Advanced Laboratory,
•   Chemistry 398, Independent Research,
•   summer research at St. Olaf College, or
•   summer research at another site.

Independent Study (Chemistry 298) allows a student to receive level II course credit for independent study projects that might involve experimental work or library research work.  The interested student seeks out a faculty member willing to supervise the proposed project.  This faculty member then becomes the student’s distinction mentor.

Academic Internships (Chemistry 394) allows a student to receive course credit for working as a chemist.  Eligible projects require that students contribute a significant creative effort to the project.  Working as a lab technician, while valuable experience, generally does not allow students to contribute to the creative effort.  Students are advised to work with the Center for Experiential Learning (CEL) office to set up internship opportunities and to check with a chemistry faculty member to determine whether the project would qualify for distinction.  The student will choose a chemistry faculty member to serve as their distinction mentor.

Independent Research (Chemistry 398) and Advanced Laboratory (Chemistry 375) allow a student to receive 1.0 or 0.25 level III course credits, respectively, for advanced, independent research.   For either option, the interested student identifies a faculty mentor willing to oversee the project.  This faculty member will serve as the distinction mentor.

On-campus summer research in the Chemistry Department is one of the most common ways of engaging in experiential work.  Each fall faculty planning on conducting summer research publish brief descriptions of their projects.  Early in the spring semester the same faculty present their research project ideas in a public forum, typically one of the chemistry department seminars.  Interested students apply for positions and many are hired for the subsequent summer.  The faculty member under whom the researcher works becomes the distinction mentor.

Off-campus summer research is also a popular summer activity for St. Olaf students.  Summer research can be carried out at a wide variety of institutions, especially major research universities, some of whom offer summer undergraduate research programs.  Some companies also have undergraduate research summer programs that involve projects in which the researcher provides a significant intellectual component to the work.  Students pursuing off-campus research must have a St. Olaf chemistry department faculty mentor for the distinction process.  It is best to identify the departmental distinction mentor before leaving for the summer.  The faculty member or scientist with whom the work is actually accomplished (at the host institution) will serve as an additional mentor (and must give permission for the student to disseminate research results).  Students pursuing this route are required to include the host institution mentor in the plans for distinction and to come back from the summer with a good start at the writing of an “Experimental” or “Materials and Methods” section for their paper. Interdisciplinary projects conducted on- or off-campus are encouraged, but must maintain a chemical focus in order to be suitable for distinction in chemistry.  Decisions about the suitability of projects will be made on a case-by-case basis by the chemistry department.  For off-campus projects, the departmental distinction mentor makes this decision, in consultation with the Chemistry Department Leadership Triad, before a distinction faculty committee is named.

Various aspects of the distinction process are described at the links below.

Qualifications necessary for pursuing distinction.

The required elements of the distinction process:
1. Participation in an experiential learning activity or project. (current page)
2. Production of a formal paper describing the project, usually in journal format.
3. Oral presentation of the paper to a small committee of faculty.
4. Public oral presentation of the work.

Timeline for the completion of the distinction process.