Diss.-in’ on the School: The Importance of Student Research at and about MSU
Michigan State University is designated by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Learning as a Research 1 (R1) institution (1). Universities do not simply achieve this status due to the population of the student body or the amount of land owned by the school. In order to reach this designation, there are five strictly regulated objectives that must be met (although each of these each has their own numerous sub-objectives). Overall the university must:
- Offer a full and wide range of baccalaureate programs
- Be committed to graduate studies and education through the doctorate program
- Give a high priority to research
- Award at least 50 doctoral degrees each year
- Receive annually $40 million or more in federal support (1)
MSU meets and surpasses all these requirements, indicating that the university is dedicated to a higher level and a superior quality of research. Furthermore, the university is equally dedicated to how that research can be used and applied in a diverse array of fields across the world. People all around the globe are beneficiaries of institutions such as MSU and the research that they help to produce. However, you do not need to hunt for the results of MSU-sponsored research in far-away places such as with the dam projects in Brazil through the College of Engineering or protein research in Japan with Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology. Although these projects are necessary and help push research forward, the fruits of MSU research can also be seen everywhere on campus: in the layout of the campus itself, in the design of the buildings, in the structure of education in the classroom, in the social experience of campus life, and much more.
Unknown to many, but felt by everyone on campus, research about the university itself by its own students has been conducted since the earliest years of the school’s history. Unfortunately, many of us are unaware of, and therefore cannot truly appreciate, the amount of hard work and years of research that went in to making MSU the renowned institution it is today. Achieving this standard of excellence was possible by the many introspective research projects conducted at and about the school. It is my job this year to rediscover and uncover as many of these MSU-themed bachelor’s theses, master’s theses, and dissertations as I can, document their contents, and obtain maps, photographs, and accounts that we have not had access to in the past.
One of the main reasons behind this is that there are many theses and dissertations focusing on topics related to the school that can add to the rich history of the university and aid our work. Not only do these contain topics that we haven’t had as much access to in the past, but they also come from an interesting perspective that is seldom seen or heard: that of MSU students writing about the campus in a research capacity.
Of the first few publications I have sorted through and recorded already, (thanks to the help of the MSU Library Special Collections) new information and insights into early campus life can be seen and read. For example, a 1934 Bachelor’s Thesis by H.A. Balbach and J.J. Zerbe through the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences (now called the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources) entitled “The Michigan State College Property Boundary from the Intersection of Mount Hope and Hagadorn Roads to the Township Intersection of Mount Hope Road” discusses the numerous and arduous surveying expeditions and calculations these two students did in order to formalize the boundaries of the college.
They write that with the original land grant from the federal government and later land acquisitions from private land owners, the piece-meal 1700-acre area owned by the college (as of 1934) was never systematically surveyed to discover the true boundaries (2). (There are at least two other bachelor’s theses dating to around 1934 over the same topic but in different areas of campus.) Page after page is filled with complex and highly organized surveying calculations, but Balbach and Zerbe can’t help but show their frustration at times. On page 26 of their thesis (and in the photo below), they placed a picture of one of their marker-finding expeditions with a caption that reads: “NO LUCK! This shot was taken when the authors had just about exhausted patience in trying to locate the cornerstone on the Township line between sections 24-25 of Lansing Township. As one may see, it was necessary to re-fill and begin at the other side where the stone was subsequently located” (2, pg. 26). As they stated, they eventually found the cornerstone, but first dug in the wrong spot and had to break through Tarvia paved roads (a type of cost-effective road created by the Barrett Manufacturing Company in 1903 (3) and utilized by the school) with nothing other than pickaxes and shovels (2).
It is through these types of source materials that we can learn about the school’s past from unique perspectives, gain access to materials and resources that we had not previously had, and gain a greater understanding for how research has been conducted at the school through time. I am excited to keep digging into these MSU-themed research topics and hope to share some of their results and comments in future posts.
- Balbach H.A. and J.J. Zerbe. The Michigan State College Property Boundary from the Intersection of Mount Hope and Hagadorn Roads to the Township Intersection of Mount Hope Road, 1934
Figure 1: Photo by Balbach H.A. and J.J. Zerbe, The Michigan State College Property Boundary from the Intersection of Mount Hope and Hagadorn Roads to the Township Intersection of Mount Hope Road, 1934.
Figure 2: Photo by Balbach H.A. and J.J. Zerbe, The Michigan State College Property Boundary from the Intersection of Mount Hope and Hagadorn Roads to the Township Intersection of Mount Hope Road, 1934, p. 26.