Performance Learning in the Natural Sciences at Millikin University (Team D)

Performance learning at Millikin University has many benefits outside of being a unique resume booster. Professionals want employees who have had real life experiences. This is perfect for performance learning because it is all hands-on and primarily independent; there is no one walking student’s through step-by-step. Instead, there is an adviser who helps guide the student to solutions, but outside of semi regular advising meetings, the work is all independent. Jacob Hamilton, Junior Chemistry major at Millikin, is in the midst of conducting this undergraduate research project, and he frequently explains how it has shaped his career aspirations. Performance learning at this time is critical because this motivates students to continue to being lifelong learners.

Front entrance to Millikin University, Shilling Hall.

Millikin University offers many different major and degree options that assist students in pursuing their dreams post-college. Millikin positions students in the classroom with learning opportunities that aid in exploration and shaping young minds of the future. This institution gives students a handson learning experience that will better prepare them for the workforce. In the Chemistry department, students are required to obtain two credit hours of undergraduate research for graduation, but many students choose to continue their projects over multiple semesters after the graduation requirement is met. This continued research and motivation can be attributed to the unique experiences and high learning agility that develops along the way.  However, throughout the entire university, various students in many different departments are highly motivated to learn through doing. 

There was no strict process to Jacob’s research. He uses his resources to come up with a solid plan to tackle problems that may come up in the research lab. To make the instrument effective and cheap, he learned a 3D printing software, Autodesk Fusion 360,  to print parts for the instrument. Skills such as these naturally develop in the time spent doing undergraduate research. The premise of the research is to create an optical trapping instrument that can be used for future research at Millikin University. It will be used for environmental applications regarding the structure and composition of aerosol particles that affect climate change in the atmosphere. From researching these tools and gathering intelligence, students can gain relevant skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving, to apply in the workforce or in graduate school after undergraduate education. This type of motivated self-learning is commonly cultivated among all students in a performance learning project. It is the mission of Millikin to provide these valuable learning experiences to all of its students.

Over the course of three semesters, Jacob has had the opportunity to do hands on research as a sophomore that many undergraduate students at other universities do not receive until their Junior or Senior year. Crucially, he has had the time to truly hone his research and analytical skills that are relevant in his field. Independent learning has been a very advantageous in the process of research. With only the help of weekly meetings with a faculty adviser to steer the project in a positive direction, much of the literature review and modeling is done privately. Jacob reflected positively on the experience saying, “It has been a unique experience to conduct independent research that I may not have gotten as an undergraduate at a larger institution. It also gave me significantly more confidence in my ability to learn on my own.” There is no hand holding or special treatment, but rather the opportunity to self-motivate and solely produce results.  Performance learning in the natural sciences department gets the student out of the classroom and puts theory into practice. It allows for students to look deeper into how certain abstract aspects learned in the classroom effect real world situations. Performance learning essentially gives students the chance to learn by doing.

At Millikin University, Jacob Hamilton and his undergraduate research on building an optical trapping instrument is just one example of a performance learning project that helps students get hands on experience. Every department within the University dedicated class time and extracurriculars to giving the students opportunities to learn by doing. Thus, moving programs in a positive direction and fulfilling a noble purpose in higher learning. For more examples of performance learning in the natural sciences and a brief explanation of optical trapping, please view the attached files.

Performance Learning in Pre-Vet at Millikin University.

Optical Trapping Summary.