U names new undergraduate research director

Karlee Weinmann

In an attempt to draw more visibility to undergraduate research endeavors, the University established a new office with hopes to popularize research opportunities for campus undergraduates.

Craig Swan, vice provost and dean for undergraduate education, named physics professor Marvin Marshak faculty director of undergraduate research last week. The newly created position puts Marshak in charge of facilitating research across departments and drafting proposals aimed to increase research funding for the University.

Marshak said he will work to increase the current proportion of undergraduates doing research, around 30 percent, to about 50 percent in the next few years.

“If I can at least facilitate progress toward that goal, get a lot of people who are interested in this, it will be a big accomplishment,” he said.

The new office intends to raise awareness of other means of doing research if more traditional programs do not fit the parameters of students’ interests.

In expanding the definition of research to include humanities and the arts, Marshak said student interest in conducting research would widen accordingly.

“The University has this ‘Driven to Discover’ theme, and discover means not just discovering a new type of plant, but discover could be to discover a new way of expressing thought,” he said.

An undergraduate research task force evaluated the University’s current success against its potential in the area and reported its findings nearly a year ago, recommending the creation of a single office for undergraduate research performance.

Peter Hudleston, associate dean of the Institute of Technology, chaired the task force and the search committee, which first convened last fall to find the ideal head of the new office.

Marshak, who has been teaching at the University for 36 years, was a strong candidate from the beginning, according to Hudleston.

“Basically, what we were looking for is someone who can coordinate what’s being done now very well in many numbers of places by lots of people, and create a more visible undergraduate research enterprise,” he said. “And (Marshak)’s been a champion for undergraduates on campus for a long time.”

The search committee made recommendations to Swan, who interviewed four finalists and ultimately selected Marshak for the position.

“His record and experience have just been extraordinary,” Swan said.

Marshak will collaborate with college-based advisory committees and representatives from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program to help increase opportunities for undergraduates interested in conducting research.

Vicky Munro, UROP coordinator, said although grants and resources might not be granted through the program for various reasons, more students are applying each year. The new office could mean a greater on-campus presence for UROP, an idea Munro welcomes.

“I would like to see some of the areas expand,” she said. “I’d like to see (the College of Liberal Arts), for example, have more proposals.”

UROP is the most visible undergraduate research outlet on campus, said Hudleston, but more students are working independently from the program through less-publicized means like summer projects or in faculty labs.

To universalize the research experience in each college, opportunities for undergraduate research will be more clearly delineated as undergraduates begin their collegiate experience.

At orientation and subsequent advising appointments, Marshak would like advisers to inform students about assorted research prospects open to undergraduates.

 Marshak said Housing and Residential Life could be an ally used to further recruit young researchers from within residence halls.

As he begins his tenure at the new post, Marshak will maintain a presence in the classroom, where he said focused interactions with students make otherwise impersonal experiences more significant. Material science engineering senior Pat O’Connor, who has spent three semesters in Marshak’s classes, agrees.

“He has, by far, the most genuine concern for the needs of other people of any person I’ve ever met,” he said.

In a way, Marshak said, his new position will allow him to continue encouragement of students in their endeavors.

“In this research experience, as students really get into it, perhaps the most important thing they learn is that there’s no limit to the horizons they can set for themselves,” Marshak said. “If they put their mind to something, they can go out and do it.”