After viewing research posters presented by Utah State University students during the Jan. 25 Undergraduate Research Day on Utah’s Capitol Hill, USU President Stan Albrecht admitted he’d hate to be an undergrad competing with today’s students.
“Our undergraduates are pursuing projects that only graduates would have undertaken when I was in school,” Albrecht says. “It’s amazing to see the kinds of projects they’re involved in.”
Legislators, too, are taking note of Aggie efforts in the research arena. “State legislators mention two things when asked about Utah State,” says Michael Kennedy, who serves as USU’s special assistant to the president for federal and state relations. “Aggie Ice Cream and Posters on the Hill.”
The latter – an opportunity for USU students to showcase their research achievements to state lawmakers – grew from an effort to demonstrate the value of hands-on research in undergraduate learning.
“We heard some criticism that USU was spending more time on research than teaching,” says Joyce Kinkead, vice president for undergraduate research. “We realized we needed to correct a serious misperception.”
With colleagues, Kinkead organized Utah’s first Undergraduate Research Day on Capitol Hill in 2001 involving students from Utah State and the University of Utah. The event, showcasing students from the state’s two public research universities, has been an annual success ever since.
“Participating in research is invaluable for a student’s intellectual growth and development,” says Brent Miller, vice president for research at USU. “Undergraduate research provides a unique hands-on experience that enhances learning, helps students gain entry in competitive professional and graduate school programs and prepares them to be key participants in the knowledge economy.”
Capitol Hill presenter Michael Larson credits his research efforts at USU with helping him achieve medical school acceptance.
“I started my undergrad studies at a different school but switched to Utah State to take advantage of research opportunities,” says Larson, a senior biology major who plans to enter the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee next fall. “USU has been a great experience. I’ve had more research opportunities than I’ve been able to take advantage of.”
Junior Sherry Baker, who studies cancer cell metastasis with faculty mentor Daryll DeWald, says research offers learning experiences that can’t be taught in a classroom.
“You’re able to apply (what you learn in class) in a real life situation,” says Baker, who will also present her research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research this April in Maryland. “Actual experimentation helps you to learn faster and makes you think more critically.”
Kinkead says nearly 100 current USU students are Undergraduate Research Fellows and the university’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities program typically awards 60 grants annually to fund student projects. Many more undergrads are also involved in research projects with faculty members. The number of undergrads employed in campus research positions jumped from 702 in the 2005-06 academic year to 1,060 in 2006-07.
Starting this year, eligible students will receive the title of Undergraduate Research Scholar on their transcripts.
“USU’s research office invests $160,000 each year in undergraduate research and this is in addition to funds provided by colleges, departments and other units on campus,” Kinkead says.
Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto [email@example.com], 435-797-1429