Undergraduate Research: An Anchor of Lifelong Learning

Written by Reed Mueller, Ph.D., Vice President for Academic Affairs & Dean of the Faculty

Trained as a clinical psychologist, Dr. Mueller’s research interests include psychotherapy outcome measurement, community-level prevention programs, and recently, metacognition and information literacy. On campus, Dr. Mueller teaches Neurodiverse Psychology, Theories of Personality, and Psychology of Religion.

One of the classic elements of university life is a heavy reliance on the academic calendar. The subunits of the academic year (quarters or semesters) are themselves typically divided into many weeks of instruction. Then comes a week of final examinations where students provide evidence of what they have learned in their courses. Having demonstrated that learning has happened, students and faculty alike celebrate the culmination of academic efforts by posting grades and, ultimately, cheering on new graduates at commencement. Then, after a well-earned break, the cycle repeats until the next class of students reaches graduation day.

This cadenced calendar provides a framework that shapes learning objectives and outcomes just as it shapes the minds of learners. Less obvious, however, is that interspersed within this broad framework, at least at Bushnell, are orchestrated rhythms intended to move students – and faculty and staff for that matter – beyond the mere metabolization of discipline-specific information and into a life of wisdom, faith, and service. One such rhythm is Academic Creativity and Excellence Day (ACE Day), where faith is expressed as a discipleship of the mind (Sire, 1990) where students engage a world in need of God-honoring wisdom offered with clarity, conviction, and compassion.

ACE Day was founded by professor emeritus Dr. Tim Bergquist to encourage students to share their intellectual passions with the Beacon community and beyond. It is an intentional rhythm practiced twice in each academic year during which students present their research to peers, staff, faculty, and the broader community. Many of the presentations are conducted via topic-specific poster displays. In this expression of scholarship, students prepare their posters and stand ready to engage questions asked of them by attendees at one of multiple poster sessions. Other students present their scholarly work in a formal presentation, wherein they investigate a question, present background information and a review of scholarly literature related to that question, and then explore the real-world implications of their research.

Our most recent ACE Day illustrates the rich variety of intellectual work our students conduct. Students Brooklyn Brown, Bobby Byrd, Albert Jennings, and Ethan Stacy presented research out of their Critical University Studies course on the mental and emotional pressures that are increasingly prevalent in college student populations, along with beneficial coping strategies to enhance student learning. As part of their Theology and Practice of Business as Mission course, William Callahan, Davis Kyser, and Sayer Pescosolido presented their business plan to reimagine education. Their vision focused on career paths and self-directed learning opportunities intended to incorporate Christian values and formation. Following intellectual interests sparked by her History of Christianity course, Isabella Cameron explored the connections between historical and modern defenses of our faith. She argued that historical examples provide evidence that are effective in countering misunderstandings of Christian faith and practice. Senior capstone presentations included research into high-quality listening, fostering empathy across individuals, the therapeutic benefits of well-integrated faith, the practical influence of continuous glucose monitors in enhancing the lives of those with diabetes, and what it means to have an identity in Christ.

There is a common good being served as part of this scholarly endeavor. One key effect of well-conducted research is enhancement, even wellness, for both individuals and communities. Beyond this, however, there is another outcome that will ripple into the future from this research-focused rhythm: discipleship of the mind. Though James Sire (1990) popularized the phrase several decades ago, the consideration of the life of the mind is an historical imperative within the Christian faith. Paul, for example, exhorts the Roman believers to “renew their minds” (Romans 12:2) to know God’s will. Similarly, Saint Anselm of Canterbury articulated important arguments for the development of wisdom, informed by faith. For his part, Anselm noted the importance of a “faith seeking understanding.” To read this as the imposition of intellectual pursuits over and against faith (which is, of course, a concern in the secularization of higher education), represents a misunderstanding of the phrase. According to Williams (2001, 2023), Anselm’s intent here is to express one’s love of God and the things of God through the efforts commonly associated with the life of a scholar.

As embedded programmatically into our curriculum, undergraduate research experiences such as ACE Day are indeed aspects of the faithful life of a disciple. Being a student is a call to deepen one’s faith and its application in the world through the shaping of the mind. Engaging in faculty-directed, faculty-mentored, or self-selected research, students learn to dwell upon God-honoring curiosities (“I wonder if it’s possible to rethink effective education and make a difference in the Kingdom?” or “How might faith benefit individuals suffering from high levels of stress?”). The fostering of such curiosities is part of the shaping of the mind that leads to disciples that ask essential questions for their own benefit and the benefit of their neighbors.

“Don’t believe everything you think: test it out!” – Dr. Reed Mueller

As part of this discipleship of the mind, undergraduate researchers also learn to conduct their work with humility (“I could very well be wrong in what I think I know; there is and always will be more to discover about God’s work in world”). Humility, in addition to inspired curiosity, is God-honoring. As conveyed by Simmons (1998, p.33), Richard Hughes observes, “The sovereignty of God means that I am not God, that my reason is inevitably impaired, and that my knowledge is always fragmentary and incomplete. In the context of higher education, this position means that every scholar must always confess that he or she could be wrong.” More colloquially, I have told my students: “Don’t believe everything you think; test it out!” As such, our students learn pathways of inquiry that are consistent with the methods of academic discipline being applied. This is a partial corrective to the consequences of the fall; yet, we must continue to be careful, recognizing that these consequences of the fall affect some things less (such as mathematics or chemistry) and others more (such as ethics and theology) (Entwistle, 2023). Thus, both a humble stance regarding the properties of one’s own mind and knowledge of one’s need of God’s guidance as a scholar are essential elements of intellectual formation for our students.

ACE Day is a powerful rhythm that fosters faith-informed wisdom, which in turn leads to lives of service through discipleship of the mind. In the lead up to this semi-annual research symposium, faculty work with their students to shape them into burgeoning scholars who are curious, humble, and rigorous. In other words, we strive to nurture a faith-informed wisdom that has “deep, accurate insight…expressed in benevolent responsiveness” to the needs it observes (Walsh, 2015, p. 5). This is the promise of Christian higher education at Bushnell: wisdom (James 3:17) that is impartial, sincere, and peace-bringing, offering good fruit to a world in need through the students being shaped on our campus.


Entwistle, D. N. (2021). Integrative approaches to psychology and Christianity: An introduction to worldview issues, philosophical foundations, and models of integration. Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Simmons, E. L. (1998). Lutheran higher education: An introduction for faculty. Augsburg Fortress Publishing.

Sire, J. W. (1990). Discipleship of the mind: Learning to think God’s thoughts after Him. InterVarsity Press.

Walsh, R. (2015). What is wisdom? Cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary syntheses. Review of General Psychology, 19(3), 278-293. https://doi.org/10.1037/gpr0000045

Williams, T. (2001). Proslogion: with the Replies of Gaunilo and Anselm. Hackett Publishing.

Williams, T. (2023). Anselm of Canterbury. In E. N. Zalta & U. Nodelman (Eds.) The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy.