Undergrads Dig Deep in Research Program

The phrase ‘student research’ conjures images of successful graduates in white coats, presenting important topics to hundreds and publishing peer-reviewed reports of their findings. The year-end symposium for AYURE certainly conforms to this idea: presenting their findings before an audience of invited local legislators, SUNY New Paltz alumni and new students. The big difference is that AYURE is the Academic Year Undergraduate Research Experience program, and none of them have graduate degrees.

Undergraduate research at the national level has existed in some form since the late 70s, starting with the physical sciences and later admitting psychology research. Since then it has burgeoned to incorporate a variety of topics not only across campuses, but across the country.

“Research is very different from what’s expected in high school or even the normal undergraduate program,” explained Maureen Morrow, professor of biology and director of the undergraduate research program’s advisory board at SUNY New Paltz. “Projects aren’t just assigned. They’re the student’s projects, on their own initiatives and interests.”

Morrow oversees four segments of the undergraduate research program, including AYURE. A summer program, SURE also exists: full time research work for eight weeks, and the participants are not permitted to simultaneously attend summer courses. All of the students are expected to complete paperwork and manage even the less practical demands of the program with professionalism. By the end of the program, the previously-inexperienced participants have mastered the terminology and confidence in their research. The undergraduates become the faculty’s peers.

In addition, the program also funds travel to research exhibitions around the country, as well as their own year-end program. Participants are invited to apply for the Travel Award for Undergraduates, and the admitted attend a professional conference to present their research results.

“Think of it as analogous to an athletic department. Publishing a paper is like winning a game, and attending a conference is like traveling to a competition,” Morrow suggested. “It’s another way for students to excel.”

While she does not directly oversee students at present, she has plenty of stories about following the progress of undergraduates in their adventures in research; like a swimming instructor first showing them the ropes and the accomplishment she felt when her students were soon diving into the deep end all on their own. Students who may not have blossomed in a high school or normal collegiate environment often find their stride in the research program.

The results aren’t trivial. Ranging on a variety of topics from biology to psychology to art education to political science, between 10 and 14 projects per year are funded and many of them have been published: all of them contributions to their respective disciplines. There is no ‘second class’ in their work: anecdotes of rivaling the presentations of graduates and professors are common and the pride of the program, Morrow said

The Student Research and Creative Activity Showcase will be held on Thursday, April 12, 2012, and the Student Research Symposium (a part of the Minds at Work event) will be held on Friday, May 4, 2012.

For information, check out the research homepage at http://www.newpaltz.edu/research/usr.html

or like the program on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/SUNY-New-Paltz-Research-Scholarship-and-Creative-Activities/43858825348?sk=wall

 

Alexandra Salazar

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