Research program helps undergraduates stand out

About 400 students can get money to support research projects each year.

by Heather L. Mueller

The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program provides students with a way to stand out when it comes to job and graduate school applications.

About 400 students a year get a $1,400 incentive through the program to think about hands-on learning. But as interest grows, a program coordinator said funding can’t keep pace.

Participants receive a stipend for 120 hours of work and $300 in research costs. The application deadline is Oct. 9 for projects beginning on or after Jan. 1 and ending May 15.

Chemical engineering and finance junior Sarah Tupy received an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program Scholar Award two years ago. The scholarship gave her two years to participate in a research program.

“By having the UROP Scholars Award, I was guaranteed funds, so I had to find a faculty sponsor and topic,” she said in an e-mail. “After completing literature searches on partial oxidation experiments to learn more about my adviser’s research, I worked with my sponsor and graduate students to create my proposal.”

Tupy said it benefited her to get paid for research but that she worked more hours than the stipend covered.

Program Coordinator Vicky Munro said the program has been “pushing every round now for years.”

“The number of applications keeps growing, but the funds don’t,” she said.

Munro sad the University is constructing the support needed for undergraduate research as outlined in strategic positioning initiatives, including a task force for undergraduate research, an information office and increased staff support.

The University is “on the verge of a more coherent plan,” but “the actual plan and jumping into it haven’t taken place,” she said.

Transferring the program into the Office of Research and hiring people were the first steps, but Munro said there have been few discussions as to where to go from there.

“The University as a whole is going to put more effort into it,” Munro said about undergraduate research scholarships.

Rebecca Rassier, coordinator for individualized degree programs and College of Liberal Arts Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, said undergraduate research is a priority.

“In the strategic positioning documents, UROP has been specifically mentioned because it already exists” and can be easily improved, Rassier said.

The University needs to create an undergraduate research culture in which “people don’t think of research as just test tubes,” she said.

Rassier said students looking to do undergraduate research should realize it “doesn’t have to be in a laboratory.”

“It can be just researching a question, or trying to answer a question that hasn’t been answered yet.

“I think that because post-graduate life is becoming so competitive Ö students are looking for any way they can set themselves apart,” Rassier said. “It just gives you a chance to decide if you like to do research.”

Peter Hudleston, associate dean for undergraduate studies, said the University should support undergraduate research.

He saw increased Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program funding, improved coordination of research programs across colleges, a central site for undergraduate research information and more exposure to undergraduate research results as ways of achieving this goal.

“I think it’s more important to have more UROP-type funding in areas where there’s less external funding for research,” Hudleston said.

“Opportunities should be there for students in all colleges,” he said. “I think there are excellent opportunities in IT because the number of faculty with research labs and opportunities Ö are very good.”

Frances Lawrenz, associate dean for research in the College of Education and Human Development, said improving the program will benefit the whole institution.

“There’s a lot of priority on the higher level stuff, with the graduate and national rankings, but they also do want to make sure undergraduates are getting a large amount of experiences,” she said.

Lawrenz said interpersonal encouragement and learning communities are good ways to network with other students. She said students can find interesting research opportunities outside of the program online or through faculty members.