CLEMSON — A Clemson University program in which study and work by thousands of undergraduate students have impacted people in South Carolina, the United States and countries around the world has received national recognition.

Creative Inquiry, the imaginative combination of engaged learning, cross-disciplinary interaction and undergraduate research is unique to Clemson University. Students take on problems that spring from their own curiosity, from a professor’s challenge or from the pressing needs of the world around them. Team-based investigations are led by faculty members over the course of a year or longer.

The national Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) recognizes campuses demonstrating characteristics of excellence in undergraduate research. CUR has selected Clemson University and its Creative Inquiry program for a 2016 Campus-wide Award for Undergraduate Research Accomplishment (AURA).

Students collaborate on a Creative Inquiry research project.

Students collaborate on a Creative Inquiry research project.

The award recognizes institutions with exemplary programs providing high-quality research experiences for undergraduates. It is modeled on the organization’s criteria for exceptional undergraduate research, scholarship and creative activity programs.

“Diversity, interdisciplinarity and close attention to program assessment are some of the hallmarks of AURA honorees,” said CUR executive officer Elizabeth Ambos. “CUR is proud to honor academic institutions that have embraced and excelled in promoting and expanding undergraduate research, scholarship and creative inquiry on their campuses.”

A national model for research-intensive universities, Clemson’s Creative Inquiry program integrates research into the curriculum, spans disparate disciplines, involves a large segment of the student body and facilitates early and sustained involvement in research. Creative Inquiry serves the entire campus in its location in the new Watt Family Innovation Center, which opened earlier this year.

In 2015-2016, Clemson’s Creative Inquiry program supported 5,600 student experiences in 421 projects. Each year, more than 150 faculty mentor Creative Inquiry projects. Since the program began in 2005, faculty have mentored Creative Inquiry projects involving more than 37,000 student experiences.

“All of us at Clemson are extremely proud of the Creative Inquiry program and the way it has come to exemplify the university’s commitment to undergraduate research,” said Clemson University President James P. Clements. “This unique and invaluable experience produces exceptional graduates while helping solve real-world problems, and we are honored by the recognition the Council on Undergraduate Research has given to our work in this vitally important area.”

In Creative Inquiry projects, students have conducted research ranging from designing sustainable gardens in South Carolina to building irrigation systems in Gambia, Africa, to working on the NASA moon rover.

Creative Inquiry director Barbara Speziale said, “Immersion in real-world problem-solving helps Clemson’s students develop their technical, leadership and communication skills both within and across disciplinary boundaries.”

Examples of Creative Inquiry projects are:

Effects of environment stress on cell growth — Cells respond to their environment by modulating their growth and/or changing their behavior. This Creative Inquiry focuses on understanding how environmental stressors such as low-dose radiation and heat affect human cells. While these stresses are not large enough to kill cells, they can significantly affect cell behavior. This project involves experiments and computational modeling techniques. By using a combination of experimental, analytical and computational techniques, the team works on various problems related to cell growth modeling in response to environmental stress.

Designing Medical Technology for the Developing World — Developing countries face healthcare challenges every day, whether it is lack of supplies or a shortage of healthcare professionals. Medical devices and equipment that are considered standard in hospitals in the United States can be hard to find and very expensive in developing countries, such as Tanzania. Tanzania has made significant advances with the quality of their healthcare; however, the infant mortality rate is still 10 times greater than that of the United States. There is a lack of technology and untrained healthcare professionals to use these medical devices. This Creative Inquiry team helps design and develop medical instruments and monitors that are robust, user-friendly, and low-cost for developing countries. The students on this teamwork on electronics and instrument design.

One project focuses on developing a neonatal temperature sensing and control system for the prevention of hyperthermia in premature babies for Tanzanian health centers. Other projects will focus on development and design of cheap pulse oximeter and electrocardiography systems to monitor the blood oxygen levels and heart rates in these babies. These types of projects not only have the ability to improve the lives of young infants and families, but they can also impact the medical field in developing nations worldwide.

Introducing Middle-School Students to Scientific Careers — Clemson students majoring in science or science education develop teaching modules to introduce middle-school students to scientific research and careers and present them in local middle schools with high percentage of Latino students.  The project gives middle-school students hands-on experiences of scientific research and stimulates interest in science at a time when many students lose interest in the subject. The data collected on the impact on the students will be used as preliminary data for a National Institutes of Health grant opportunity.

The Final Frontier: Preparing Astronauts for Teamwork and Leadership in Long Duration Space Missions — How do astronaut crews function effectively when their missions last not just weeks, but potentially years? How will they perform from a teamwork perspective when they are with their team members 24/7 for years at a time, with very little or even no contact with Earth? Who will take on leadership roles, and how will they dynamically interact to ensure mission success? How do we select the “right” team members to even start this journey?

Creative Inquiry students are investigating these questions in the Developing and Improving Globally Integrated Teamwork and Leadership (DIGITAL) Lab. While astronaut crews have successfully conducted a range of missions over the past several decades, moving to long duration space exploration is a new and uncharted territory that has many unknown implications. Although much of the focus has been on how to physically get astronauts to destinations like Mars, we also need to understand how to prepare these crews to interact effectively as a team — that is, how do we take this team of experts and turn them into an expert team?

The Scroll of Honor — Students majoring in landscape architecture, history, English, communications, marketing and computer science are collaborating to honor Clemson alumni who made the supreme sacrifice in service to our country. This multidisciplinary team is developing a virtual information trove and redesigning the Scroll of Honor Memorial Plaza adjacent to Clemson’s Memorial Stadium

Public Art on the Clemson University Campus —Atelier InSite is a new paradigm for public artwork on university campuses that capitalizes on a cross-disciplinary and inclusive approach that is predominantly student driven. Students enrolled in different department programs from art to the life sciences work together to implement site- specific public artwork. Students engage in direct, hands on processes to determine the artwork placed around campus. They also conduct research on the nature of public art as well as investigate the design build process, conduct site analysis and identify site locations for artwork.

“Creative Inquiry is honored to contribute to the success of undergraduate research at Clemson,” said Coral Allard-Keese, Creative Inquiry associate director. “We appreciate all of the faculty, staff and graduate student mentors as well as the undergraduates who have engaged in Creative Inquiry research experiences for making CI a success.”

To learn more about Clemson’s Creative Inquiry program and current projects, go to

Clemson’s Creative Inquiry will be honored during the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) annual meeting in San Francisco in January 2017.


Council on Undergraduate Research
The Council on Undergraduate Research supports faculty and student development for high-quality undergraduate student-faculty collaborative research, scholarship, and creative activities. More than 700 institutions and over 10,000 individuals belong to CUR. CUR believes that the best way to capture student interest and create enthusiasm for a discipline is through research in close collaboration with faculty members.

Clemson University
Clemson University is a major, land-grant, science- and engineering-oriented research university in South Carolina that maintains a strong commitment to teaching and student success. Ranked No. 23 among national public universities, Clemson is an inclusive, student-centered community characterized by high academic standards, a culture of collaboration, school spirit, and a competitive drive to excel.