University News

U. does not plan to expand UTRA program

By
Contributing Writer
Thursday, February 18, 2010

The University does not intend to expand opportunities for Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards this year, said Besenia Rodriguez, associate dean of the College for undergraduate research.

Though last year’s Task Force on Undergraduate Education recommended increasing the number of UTRAs, the economy prevented the University from executing the recommendation. This year, the recession has prevented the expansion of the UTRA program again, Rodriguez said.

“Because of the economic climate, that’s still not really a possibility,” she said.

While the University cannot fund additional UTRAs, she said it is committed to insuring that the number of awards does not decrease. About 200 awards were available last summer, The Herald reported last February.

Though the task force pushed for more research awards, the size of the applicant pool has not grown significantly since last year, Rodriguez said. More students attended information sessions about the UTRA program this year than last year, but the number of applicants was about the same, she said.

But the UTRA program has changed in other ways. In 2008, the creation of semester UTRAs allowed undergraduates to participate in research during the school year, Rodriguez said. Students who received these awards worked on projects that could not be completed over the summer, she said.

Rodriguez said her office is also trying to attract a wider variety of students to the program. In the past, UTRAs mainly appealed to science concentrators, she said. This year, Rodriguez said she has been encouraging students from other disciplines to apply.
She said she hopes to “increase the visibility of UTRAs among humanities and social sciences students so they’re able to see the relevance of a research project.”

Anne Fuller ’11, a psychology concentrator, participated in research for the Department of Education last summer. 

She compared European-American and Chinese-American children between the ages of four and six, examining “how they’re socialized and how they develop beliefs and attitudes about learning,” she said.

Though Fuller studies a social science, she said her experience with undergraduate research was “really good.”

“You’re doing all different steps of research,” she added.

Rodriguez said she has also worked to increase the involvement of students participating in the program. Last summer, Research Thursdays were created in an effort to unite the students engaged in undergraduate research. At these events, participants listened to faculty lectures and could discuss their work with each other, she said.

These events have been well-received ever since they started, Rodriguez said. “We had really strong attendance.”

Instead of having undergraduates isolate themselves as they work on separate projects, she said she hopes that Research Thursdays will foster a greater sense of community.

But Fuller said she participated in the program for the research opportunity, not the collaboration. “If you weren’t interested in the research that was going on, it wasn’t really an interesting experience,” she said.

Though economic conditions have prevented the expansion of the UTRA program for the moment, the University remains committed to undergraduate research, Rodriguez said. 

“We’re hoping to introduce enthusiastic and intellectually curious students into the process of a long-term research project and course development so that they get to see insight into the workings of academia.”