University News

Summer UTRAs hold steady despite recommendation to increase

Contributing Writer
Thursday, March 17, 2011

Around 200 students received Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards to support summer research, according to Besenia Rodriguez, associate dean of the College for undergraduate research,  about the same number offered in previous years. The 330 applicants were notified Tuesday.

Though a report released September 2008 by the Task Force on Undergraduate Education recommended the University increase the number of UTRAs by 20 percent each year for the next four years, the number of summer awards offered has continued to hover around 200.

In previous years, Rodriguez said additional UTRAs were offered after some students declined to accept the award or additional funds became available. The number of awards also fluctuates from year to year, Rodriguez said, because the money for UTRAs comes from donors and alums who vary their donations to the fund each year.

Though the awards differ in content and goals, Rodriguez said she hopes to increase the number of humanities and social science applications because there are far fewer applicants and little funding in these fields. UTRAs are one of the few avenues for students in those areas to do research, she said. Applications in these fields increased 4 percent last year, according to a March 19 Herald article.

UTRAs can either be for a collaborative research project with a professor or work involving course design or revision of an existing class.

Alex Salter ’12, who received an UTRA for this summer, will be working in a biology lab with Laurent Brossay, associate professor of medical science. Salter will study type II natural killer T cells, which may play a role in determining the immune system’s response to a viral infection, he said. Salter said applying for an UTRA seemed like a “logical step in the process” because he started working in Brossay’s lab last fall. He said he was glad the University offers such a meaningful research opportunity to undergraduates.

 Enoma Okunbor ’11 did an International UTRA last summer evaluating the cost-effectiveness of antiretroviral therapy in rural South Africa. Her interest stemmed from a class she took her sophomore year on international health. As a community health concentrator interested in the prevalence of HIV, Okunbor looked for professors on Brown’s International Health Institute website who had similar interests and found Mark Lurie, assistant professor of medical science. Okunbor and Lurie agreed to work together on the project, which was part of a larger study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Okunbor said the UTRA gave her a “rare opportunity” to get a realistic view of health care outside the U.S. Though it challenged her “romantic view of what international medicine is,” Okunbor said she is still committed to global health. The experience offered a “suitable alternative” to studying abroad during the semester, and being in South Africa during the World Cup made for an overall “amazing” experience, she said.

Rodriguez said with “so many competitive applications,” the best ones demonstrate collaboration between the student and faculty member. Both parties must have “investment” in the project and must be able to contribute, she said.

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