A new undergraduate research program has been formed to promote student research and foster student-faculty relationships.
The Undergraduate Research Scholars Program — formerly the Undergraduate Apprenticeship Program — was created as part of the Quality Enhancement Plan of 2011.
According to Rebecca Jones, assistant director of the Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities and Research, the objectives of the URSP are to encourage undergraduate research and to develop lasting student-faculty relationships.
“The goals of the URSP are really to help support undergraduate mentor-mentee relationships in pursuing an individual, independent-research, scholarly or creative project,” Jones said.
The URSP pairs undergraduate students with graduate students or faculty members to work collaboratively on a research project. The program gives undergraduate participants flexibility in deciding what project to pursue and with which faculty member or graduate student to be paired. According to Jones, participants can choose between a part-time project, which requires a 10-hour per week time commitment, and a full-time project, which requires a 40-hour per week commitment. Participants also receive a monetary award that varies depending on the full-time or part-time status of the project. Mentors receive a portion of each award as compensation for their time.
URSP guidelines do not limit projects to any specific discipline or field of study and are designed to provide opportunities for undergraduates to gain research experience that might otherwise be unavailable to them.
“It is designed to support all sorts of different projects — in the humanities, as well as in the sciences, social sciences, government, history all different areas like that,” Jones said. “Everybody does scholarly work, and the body of knowledge of those disciplines is being added to by faculty and other researchers. So what we want to see is undergraduates coming alongside faculty and contributing to that.”
Senior individualized study major and URSP participant Jordan Higgins, who is researching a psychological phenomenon for his final project, can attest to the benefits of the program.
“My faculty adviser encouraged me to apply for the scholarship program in order to work in the lab. I ended up changing my work schedule so I could get in and get real lab experience, which both as an undergraduate and as a non-traditional student, is an incredible opportunity,” Higgins said.
The program is open to all Mason undergraduates. For his URSP project, freshman government and international politics major Daniel Bond is conducting a comparative analysis of same-sex and interracial marriages from both a legal and historical standpoint. Bond expects to present his findings in three weeks.
“I think that this is something that I am definitely going to continue on here and try and find other professors to partner with and find other new ideas to pursue,” Bond said.
Junior psychology and conflict analysis and resolution double major Krystal Thomas is another URSP participant. She is researching attitudes about the “stereotypical black person” to prove that there is no such thing.
“When I heard of research, I thought it was just that you were in a lab coat [and] that you were in a lab working with chemicals,” Thomas said. “But the whole idea with research is about trying to find knowledge and increase knowledge and just having a question and wanting to find an answer.”
After student researchers and their mentors have completed a project, their work is published in GMReview magazine, which is an annual cross-disciplinary undergraduate journal.
According to Jones, students have other opportunities to present the results of their final projects to the academic community such as in academic journals and at university-wide events celebrating student scholarship.
“There’s lots of opportunity for presentations as well, and that’s kind of the other side of disseminating the results [of a project],” Jones said. “There’s the college-level celebrations of scholarship, and there’s going to be a new celebration of student scholarship this spring, which will be a university-wide event.”
Prospective URSP participants can learn more about the program through the OSCAR website, oscar.gmu.edu, on Facebook at Student as Scholars at Mason or on Twitter @Mason_OSCAR.