What is ORCA?

Dramatic changes are occurring in higher education. Instead of simply memorizing copious pages of lecture notes, today's undergraduates are being challenged to become active contributors to the development of new knowledge. Murray State University is working to become one of Kentucky's institutions of choice for students who want to perform significant research and do real scholarly or creative work.

At Murray State, we also understand that student retention is an important University concern. We know that students leave college for a wide variety of reasons, not the least of which is that they have not “connected” with the university community. Providing students with an opportunity to build close working relationships with faculty and peers is an important component of any university’s retention strategy. At Murray State, we have embarked on a program that engages students in faculty-guided research and scholarly work that begins when the students arrive at Murray State as freshman and continues until they receive their degrees.

To encourage and facilitate this important new teaching and learning paradigm, Murray State University has created The Office of Research  and Creative Activity (ORCA). (Formerly known as Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity, or URSA.) The office has developed a number of initiatives to support faculty-mentored scholarly, creative, and research opportunities for undergraduates in all disciplines across the university.

The kinds of undergraduate projects we envision often require some financial support. The ORCA Grants program has been created to address this need. These awards will provide up to $500 to support faculty-student collaborations for supplies, literature searches, equipment, travel to field sites, and other costs associated with approved projects.

We have also organized an annual campus-wide celebration of undergraduate and graduate student scholarship to be held in the months of April and November. Called Scholars Week, this event enables students to present the results of their work to the campus and local community in a variety of formats, including oral presentations, poster displays, performances, and exhibits.

Another important initiative developed by the office is Posters-at-the-Capitol. Since its inaugural year in 2001, Posters regularly hosts over 200 students from Kentucky's eight public universities and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System at the Capitol Building in Frankfort. These students help carry the message to those who fund higher education in Kentucky that involving undergraduates in the scholarly pursuits of the faculty is an extremely important and effective in teaching and learning methodology.

Our forthcoming journal, Steeplechase, provides a forum for students to publish the results of their research, scholarly and creative endeavors, as well as discuss their personal experience with the research process. We encourage all undergraduates to submit their best work for publication in the new journal.

The office works closely with Murray State faculty to ensure programs are developed that meet the needs of the faculty, our students, and the University. The ORCA Faculty Advisory Board, therefore, is key to the success of the office . With representatives from each college and school, as well as the University Libraries, the Advisory Board has played an important role in shaping and developing the programs of the office.

We encourage both the students and faculty of Murray State University to take advantage of the programs that have been created and work with the office in helping to create an even more effective teaching and learning environment at Murray State.