Scientists, artists eligible for grants,

Jake Kapsner

Thousands of dollars for research spill into the hands of University undergraduates every year, money that students quickly grab in science-based colleges and often leave untouched in liberal arts fields.
The $500,000 Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program helps about 450 students across the University annually supplement their educations and pocketbooks, said program coordinators Vicky Munro and Toby Greenwald.
What started with a $70,000 pot and 94 participants in 1985 is now a program that reaches 25 University colleges and campuses, Munro said. More than 5,200 student awards have been made in all, and about 80 percent of applicants get grants. Yet many people don’t know the program exists.
“It’s one of the best-kept secrets at the U,” Greenwald said.
Students in colleges like the Institute of Technology and the College of Biological Sciences consistently devour their school’s budget allotment, while other schools — like the College of Liberal Arts and the Carlson School of Management — consistently have spare funds, the coordinators said.
With an annual allocation of $98,000, IT used $58,000 in the first session and CBS used its entire budget.
After six months, CLA had only used $13,000 of its $120,000 budget.
The liberal arts college has the highest enrollment and gets the most money of any University college. Yet the college doesn’t award the most grants, said Karen Murray, coordinator of the research program for the college.
“I think the word ‘research’ connotes lab coats to many liberal arts students,” she said, noting that program funding also supports projects in the arts, dance and archival research.
Applications are taken and grants are awarded twice per year, with the Oct. 26 deadline fast approaching. The spring deadline is April 6, 1999. Awards provide a salary stipend of up to $1,000 for 120 work hours, and an expense allowance of up to $300 for supplies.
Program officials said any undergrads can apply for $1,300 grants with their college as many times as they like. Applications must include a recommendation by a University faculty member who’s agreed to sponsor the student’s research.
Miriam Hailechristos applied to the program as a CLA student last spring. Now in the Carlson School of Management, she’s worked on a project called “Advancement Via Individual Determination” for the past six months and will report her findings to a committee in November.
Working with a pair of sponsors, she took her interest in African-American community outreach, something she was already doing as a counselor in the Office of Special Learning Opportunities, and turned it into a study of effective marketing strategies.
About half of the proposals are student generated like Hailechristos’, and half evolve out of faculty projects that are underway, Munro said.
Students can do the work in two quarters to a year, Greenwald said. And while the resources are limited, the number of times a person can participate isn’t. Some do three, four and five projects, she said.
“Most students say it’s been one of the best experiences of their life,” Greenwald said.
Such collaborative experience with faculty is invaluable in itself, Munro said, and let’s many University undergraduates test the waters of academic research before entering graduate school.
While the experience is a transition into grad school for some, for others it is a springboard into the workplace, Greenwald said.
Stefan Debbins worked with chemistry professor Richard Hsung last year on one step in the complicated process of synthesizing a molecule.
Debbins, who graduated last spring and now works as a chemist, credited the program as light on University bureaucracy and heavy on applicable use.
“If you don’t have industrial experience, employers look for practical experience,” he said.
Besides getting on-the-job experience, students involved with the program get the chance to generate real-world research.
Jane Davidson, an associate professor in mechanical engineering, praised the efforts of student Lara Greden for her work in developing a material to reduce ground level ozone, which causes respiratory problems.
Greden will give a report of her research to a national consortium of companies interested in her filtration research.