Undergraduate Research Fellows Program

Renee Ballenger

UNK’s students took a historic step in Spring 2008 when they voted for a new fee to support an Undergraduate Research Fellowship program. “Students recognize the importance of independent scholarly opportunities, and they took it upon themselves to support a new program at UNK,” Kenya Taylor, Dean of Graduate Studies & Research, says.

Dr. Peter Longo, Director of the URF program, says, “The new Undergraduate Research Fellows program reinforces our strong tradition of undergraduate research. It will support students who want to do intensive projects during the academic year, and add to the scholarly culture on campus.” As the program develops in the next year, UNK will have up to 100 students supported each year with Fellowships.

The URF program offers a mechanism to engage select students early in their academic career in a progression of activities to develop their ability to conduct original, scholarly projects. Freshmen will be exposed to the research culture; sophomores will develop research skills; and juniors and seniors will take on advanced projects. Each student’s plan will be developed in partnership with a faculty mentor, tailored to the student’s interests and abilities.

Although the fellowships are awarded annually, they are renewable, so, “a freshman could stay in the program—learning, maturing, developing, and researching—for all four years,” according to Taylor. “With 100 fellowships, the program also helps UNK recruit top students.” The program encourages high school students to apply for an Undergraduate Research Fellowship even before they get to campus. Taylor adds, “This program sends a big message about our teaching philosophy.”

Taylor cites UNK Biology Associate Professor Kimberly Carlson as an example of the impact of undergraduate research. Dr. Carlson, an alumna of UNK’s biology department, earned her doctorate at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, and then did high-level research during a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Now, having her return to campus to teach, mentor, and discover alongside undergraduates, offers an excellent resource to students.

Funding from the student fee—$1.50 per credit hour—supports the student stipend, operating budgets, professional development funds, and a part-time program director. “Campuswide tracking will let us document the impact of this program over time,” according to Dr. Longo. “We know intuitively that undergraduate research is of high value, but it is important that we can demonstrate its value to the students who are supporting the program.”

UNK has an array of programs supporting undergraduate research that place it on the national radar. Assessment data show that students benefit in multiple ways from their independent scholarly works, which gives UNK students an advantage in their postgraduation activities. More information can be found at www.unk.edu/ugr.