The Cavalier Daily
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Put funding focus on student research

GOOD IDEAS typically require both money and interest to become realities. In the case of undergraduate research, commitment and interest is leaps and bounds ahead of funding. The University should take proactive steps to finance undergraduate research and make it a priority, even in this time of tight educational budgets, by focusing on private donors.

The Undergraduate Research Network brings students together to promote research and encourage interest in self-directed and collaborative discovery. Only a few months old, the URN already has accomplished a great deal, largely as a result of the support of the Arts and Sciences Council and the dedication of individual students.

According to URN Chair Shadi Kourosh, the network has organized its first annual research symposium, and is preparing to release the first installment of a research journal where students can publish their results. The URN hopes to expand the activities of the current Office of Scholarships and Fellowships in Garrett Hall to provide a permanent home base for undergraduate research. It already has a well-developed Web site ( /~research) that allows students to register to receive periodical announcements about research opportunities and to search for fellowships, grants and other information.

Related Links

  • Undergraduate Research Network website
  • The URN and Arts and Sciences Council have done a considerable amount with limited resources; in fact, according to Council President Lauren Purnell, the Council will consider at its meeting today whether to use its surplus to start a $10,000 endowment for undergraduate research. It also hopes to convince the Bookstore and Student Council to contribute funds in the future.

    These developments provide a great start - they prove that student interest and ability are strong. But these projects still need to expand, and that takes money.

    Currently, the largest major source of funding for undergraduate research is the Faculty Senate's Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards. The Office of the President controls funds in the David A. Harrison III trust, which they have directed to fund the Harrison grants. The Provost's office has provided supplemental funds as well.

    There are two problems, however. This is only a temporary funding source. From the beginning, the Harrison money was earmarked as seed money to get the program started, until a permanent funding source could be found. As such, there is no endowment to ensure the permanence of the program; money goes directly to the grants, each of which provides up to $3,000 for student expenses and a $1,000 stipend to a faculty advisor, every year.

    The program currently only funds 42 awards. Roughly 200 students pursue Distinguished Majors projects during their final year at the University, according to College Registrar Judy Updike. Not all of these students pursue thesis research that would benefit from grant money, but many of them would. It's easy to imagine that well over 100 grants could be put to good use - even more if students work on projects for longer than one year.

    The University should pursue these goals by finding a private, guaranteed funding source for these grants. University Director of News Services Carol Wood said that the Development Office has begun efforts to locate a private donor. There are several reasons for an individual or group to fund a larger, long-term endowment for undergraduate research.

    Student-run research dramatically increases the quality of an undergraduate education. It promotes active, collaborative learning instead of passive absorption. Strong research experiences at the undergrad level promise to provide a good foundation for a lifelong pursuit of discovery.

    Student projects also are great public-relations material for development campaigns. And having successful undergraduate research programs boosts the University's success in placing students in top graduate programs and competing with the nation's best research schools.

    Donors would bring all of these benefits, and what's more, every time a student presents or publishes a project or sends out a resume, the named award would appear as a memorial. That's a lot more exposure for donors than having buildings named after them.

    For all of these reasons, the University should step up efforts to secure a donor for an undergrad research program. With a better-funded system of undergraduate research, everyone wins.

    (Bryan Maxwell's column appeared Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at


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