38 undergrads released into the research mix
A University of Alberta campaign to equip undergraduates with the real-world tools to carry out their own research came to fruition last week as the first round of projects to be funded were announced.
The Undergraduate Research Initiative, which began accepting research proposals shortly after being launched last September, handed out $5,000 stipends to 38 undergraduate research proposals March 28.
“The URI was created to help undergraduate students carry out research—after all, we are a research-intensive university,” said Connie Varnhagen, URI’s academic director. “We have 38,000 undergraduate students at the U of A and we want to find a way for them to get research experience.”
Varnhagen says the Office of Advancement’s Annual Fund seeded the venture with enough money for 15 projects. Expecting only a few dozen applications, URI organizers were surprised after receiving 140 complete applications for 158 students, Varnhagen says.
“I thought, ‘A less than 10 per cent return rate would be devastating for students.’ We complain about other awards that have a 30 to 40 per cent return rate,” she said.
Varnhagen said she pleaded the URI’s case to the campus community and received an overwhelming response from virtually every faculty as well as the provost’s office.
“Research is our calling card; this is what makes us different from a college or technical school. We need to support students in this and we need to support them in mentored research,” said Varnhagen.
In adjudicating the proposals, Varnhagen says, URI administrators didn’t request transcripts, faculty or year of study, just that the proposal be interdisciplinary.
One such project proposal came from Victoria Bleeks, a third-year drama major. Her project, titled “Lifelong Learning at the Jubilee,” will see her work in collaboration with the Jubilee’s Community Engagement Department to redevelop its Lifelong Learning Program, which offers a range of creative programs for seniors.
Bleeks, who says she has been involved with seniors since she was a youngster volunteering at geriatric hospitals with her grandmother, plans on creating drama workshops for seniors using exercises acquired through her continued study with the intergenerational U of A-based theatre company GeriActors. She says the ultimate goal of this project is to foster a link between the university and the Jubilee, and hopes implementation of the proposed program may accommodate future placement of Community Service Learning students at the Jubilee.
“When I came to the U of A, I had the opportunity to combine my work with seniors and love of the arts with the GeriActors,” said Bleeks. “It has been a great experience, but it made me realize how limited the research in this area is.”
It was that lack of information that Bleeks says pushed her to apply for a URI stipend.
“I believe undergrad research prepares me for grad studies and it also confirms my interest,” said Bleeks, who has been accepted into a grad school abroad as a direct result of participating in URI. “It’s been a good week.”
Varnhagen says getting more students to think about grad school is one of goals of the program, but adds it is not necessarily important for all students to do mentored research.
“Our students want to do research, that’s why they’re here, but what is important for students is to learn the tools of their trade,” said Varnhagen. “This opportunity allows students to take their education one step further, whether it is towards a career or grad studies.”
To donate to the annual fund to support the URI, go to www.giving.ualberta.ca.