Undergraduate research thriving through the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program

Undergraduate research is more accessible at Texas A&M University than ever before.  It is not limited to those who wish to study science and engineering, but includes disciplines all across campus.  Through the Undergraduate Research Scholars program more students are being granted the opportunity to participate in meaningful research in the field of their choice.

The Undergraduate Research Scholars program enhances student learning by providing participants with the opportunity to produce an undergraduate research thesis and give a public presentation of their results.  At its kickoff event last week, the program welcomed 180 new Research Scholars, a 20% increase over last year.  As the program grows, so does the breadth of study being produced by its students.  This year, participants came from 52 different degree programs, representing seven College Station colleges and the Galveston campus.  Whereas most will be undertaking independent projects, 25 of these students will participate as members of 10 Undergraduate Research Scholar Teams.

As Associate Director for Undergraduate Research in Honors and Undergraduate Research (HUR), Dr. Duncan MacKenzie has responsibility for oversight of the program.  “The Research Scholars program is our flagship undergraduate research program here at Texas A&M.  The students who participate must be self-motivated, inquisitive, and effective communicators.  The fact that the program has doubled in size over the last three years illustrates that both students and faculty appreciate the benefits of rigorous research in the undergraduate learning experience,” said MacKenzie.

The Research Scholars program comprises two semesters of research.  In order to apply to the program, students must identify a faculty advisor and work with them to develop and propose a research project.  Once accepted into the Research Scholars Program, students will conduct primary research, write a thesis, and present their work to the public.  Students in this program can also receive funds to purchase research supplies, books or software, or travel to other cities, states and countries to present their research at professional meetings.  HUR provides this support through reimbursements and travel awards.  Students in the past have used these funds to present their work at conferences in Key West, Florida, San Diego, California and Tokyo, Japan.

The program is structured to provide students ample opportunities to interact with faculty and graduate student mentors to enhance their research understanding.  With the help of their mentors and resources on and off campus, students learn the process of academic research from formulating questions and testing subjects to communicating findings and synthesizing results.  Along the way participants develop their critical thinking and communications skills, improve their knowledge of their field of study, and become better acquainted with career opportunities in their discipline.

To assure that Undergraduate Research Scholars make the best use of this opportunity, Honors and Undergraduate Research assists these students by providing workshops and classes.  Workshop topics include writing productively, giving effective presentations, writing abstracts, and formatting and uploading a thesis.   The goal of the program is to create a high impact learning environment through all aspects of undergraduate research, molding Scholars into experienced and skilled researchers.

“It’s very gratifying to see how excited these students are about being given the rare opportunity to participate in cutting edge research with faculty members who are internationally-recognized in their fields,” said MacKenzie.   In doing so, the program aims to involve motivated undergraduates in a complex research project that emulates the “graduate student” experience and to introduce students to the academic publication process and the scholarly community.

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