Providing opportunities to participate in research and creative activities marks a fundamental aspect of WSU’s commitment to provide undergraduate students with a truly transformational college experience.
Hundreds of our world-class faculty members mentor undergraduate students to offer an experience few institutions can match. Students benefit from these hands-on lessons in numerous ways: working in teams, creative problem solving, exploring potential careers, mentorship from faculty members, and better understanding of others’ research.
Oscar Ulloa, who plans to graduate this spring, says he’s found many opportunities after graduation thanks to his undergraduate research experience in food science labs.
“It’s been great. Whenever I have an interview, the employers and graduate schools always like to see that I’ve done research,” says Ulloa, who would like to work in the wine industry. “It’s something that shows you’re not just going through the motions to get your degree, you’re getting involved.”
In some cases, students are able to land funding for research. In November, 25 undergraduates landed scholarships – typically $1,000 – funded by the Auvil Scholars Fellowship, and the Scott and Linda Carson Undergraduate Research Endowed Excellence Fund.
National studies consistently show students involved in research graduate at a significantly higher rate than those who do not participate. Hands-on experience often enhances and expands on class subjects.
“There are many cases in which students aren’t really excited about their field of study, but they start doing research and recognize that they are connecting classroom material with what they’re doing in the lab,” says Shelley Pressley, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research. “In a lot of cases, their GPAs will increase.”
Sydney Roberts says research stoked her interest in a career as a physician and continues to bolster her confidence.
“It definitely deepened my experience and my understanding of my field in general,” says Roberts, a neuroscience major. “My dream job is to be a family physician, but I’d like to somehow do research on the side. Research has given me the confidence to pursue a PhD, or M.D. I have the confidence now to know I can take the next step and that’s definitely something I would not have gotten if I wouldn’t have been involved in research.”
Research experience isn’t limited to science and technology majors. There are undergraduate research opportunities in every college and every major. In non-scientific fields, “research” may take the form of scholarly or creative activities. The benefits for both faculty and students are still significant.
“For faculty, it’s a great opportunity to recruit potential graduate students, and it’s also a way for faculty to broaden participation in their research, to engage with students from outside their discipline,” Pressley says. “Sometimes undergraduates are more productive, and more engaged. We have pre-research programs to give students basic skills so that they can hit the ground running.”
Hector Aguilar-Carreno, an associate professor in the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, works with undergraduates in his virology lab.
“Usually when they come into the lab, they know very little about research, but it’s wonderful to see them go from knowing nothing to being authors on papers and becoming independent thinkers,” Aguilar-Carreno says. “They vary wildly in their interests and research is not for everyone, but some really grow and it’s exciting to see. I’ve had students go on to PhD programs at Harvard, the University of Chicago and Yale, and I get a lot of satisfaction from that.”
The sixth annual Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (SURCA) will be held Monday, March 27. Online applications for SURCA are available now, and are due Feb. 21. The event continues to grow at a steady pace. Last spring, a record 235 students presented abstracts. Faculty can volunteer as judges, which Pressley says is a great way for them to realize the capabilities of undergraduate researchers.
Pressley developed a passion for research as an undergraduate through a summer research program at the University of Maine. Now she’s able to expose undergraduates to pass along the transformative power of research and hands-on experience.
“Research transformed my career as an undergraduate. It made a huge impact,” Pressley says. “All of these experiences students have really prepare them for careers, or for graduate school. They’re developing skills that employers are looking for, beyond what they learn in the classroom.”
Visit the Office of Undergraduate Research for more information, and other opportunities to connect with undergraduate research.
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