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UTRA program changes application process, now to fall under SPRINT

Students, faculty reflect on sudden changes, administrator discusses new design

The Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards will now fall under SPRINT’s purview in order to centralize funding opportunities, according to a Jan. 26 Today@Brown announcement. As a result, students will have to use a different application process to receive UTRA grants compared to past years.

The changes were made to address concerns of equity and access raised by students, Associate Dean of the College for Undergraduate Research and Inclusive Science Oludurotimi Adetunji wrote in an email to The Herald. “One of the concerns students raised was that it was difficult to navigate the many different summer programs, each with their own deadlines, funding amounts and application process,” he wrote.

In prior years, students applied for an UTRA after reaching out to a faculty member or their lab’s principal investigator and expressing interest in getting involved with research over the summer or a given semester. The student and faculty member would then complete a joint application process. 

But this year, the SPRINT award, which was launched last year to support students during the pandemic, will “serve as the umbrella application for all College-funded experiential learning opportunities, including BrownConnect LINKs, UTRAs and other awards,” Adetunji wrote.

Faculty will need to complete a Google Form by Feb. 8 providing a description of their proposed research or course development project, and detailing preferred and required qualifications. The new application portal opened for students Feb. 4, with positions expected to be posted by Feb. 10. 

Students have until Feb. 24 to apply and will be notified of award decisions by March 31, according to the UTRA (SPRINT) Faculty Collaborator Guide Summer 2021 Google Document.

Students can find summer 2021 opportunities listed in a BrownConnect Google Document

The UTRA program, which has existed for more than three decades, was “designed to foster developing mentorship relationships” and to help students gain new skills, Adetunji wrote. 

The funding structure of UTRAs has also changed based on “the success of last year’s funding approach for the short-term SPRINTs,” Adetunji added. This year, the program will “provide funding amounts based on students’ demonstrated financial need.”

But students who had already been working on the application — originally due Feb. 4 — and making arrangements with faculty expressed confusion about the sudden change.  

Joseph Namkung ’23 said he was “pulling an all-nighter to try to get (his UTRA application) ready” until he found out about the changes. Some of his friends informed him after they were unable to access the application. Others told him after they heard about it through discourse on the anonymous Facebook page Dear Blueno. “I think a lot of people just stumbled on it by chance,” he added.

Noah Vaughan ’23 expressed similar sentiments. He was applying to continue his current research over the summer when he noticed the application page was shut down. 

The changes caught some faculty members off guard as well. 

Professor of Engineering and Physics Jay Tang has been sponsoring students applying for UTRAs for many years. He sent an email to his fall 2020 PHYS 0030: “Basic Physics A” students recruiting them to apply for an UTRA at his lab Jan. 22. “I was assuming (the program) was like before,” he said. 

But after reading the Today@Brown announcement, which he added he “could have easily missed,” he filled out the Google Form. As he waits to receive more information about the changes, Tang said he is currently “following both tracks.” 

Some students worry that the change could prevent them from accomplishing their summer plans. 

“A couple friends and I are concerned … because the professor had us specifically in mind” and the new posting-based application could limit the chances of getting an UTRA, Namkung said. 

But Adetunji assures students that these former arrangements will be honored. “Students who already have connections with faculty can continue to apply directly for funding to support summer projects,” he wrote. Those students will be able to apply through the Unlisted Faculty Opportunity link on the portal.

The College hopes that the single SPRINT application simplifies the application process for students and faculty and supports more faculty-student collaborations, Adetunji wrote. “We will continue to draw on student feedback and data about the needs and experiences of Brown students to drive our decisions moving forward.”


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