Undergraduate research on the rise

Research rises in face of budget cuts

With budget cuts, the Office of Undergraduate Research has been forced to cut some of its support programs.

But undergraduate research has managed not only to remain afloat but flourish.

Pat Pukkila, the office’s associate dean, said student research has expanded in the last few years.


2009-10 Arts and Sciences graduates with research-intensive credit

Increase in research exposure from 2009-10

Percentage point increase for Arts and Sciences graduates receiving research intensive credit from 2008-09

2010-11 undergraduates with research exposure credit

And starting today, the office will join the Roosevelt Institute in celebrating student projects as part of National Undergraduate Research Week.

Pukkila said 4,862 undergraduates — about one in four UNC students — received credit for a research exposure?course in 2010-11, up 39 percent from 2009-10.

In research exposure classes, graduate students coach undergraduates on original research projects.

And in 2009-10, 62 percent of students graduating from the College of Arts and Sciences received credit for at least one research intensive course — an increase of 5 percentage points from 2008-09.

Students in those courses devote more than half of their class time to original research.

Pukkila said research has been able to grow partly because grants and endowments help fund projects, providing a cushion. She said careful planning has also helped.

“We’ve done our best to look at our program from a strategic angle,” she said.

But Pukkila said budget cuts have forced the office to eliminate an academic-year small grants program and a program in which graduate students co-mentor undergraduates on their projects.

“We were broken-hearted,” she said of the changes. She said the office could look at further eliminations during the next academic year if it receives larger budget decreases.

The office could be forced to decrease graduate research assistants — which would translate to fewer research-exposure courses. “It is a very scary time,” she said.

But in the meantime, Pukkila said she hopes the week’s events inspire more students to research.

“I think it will draw a lot of attention to the fact that undergraduate research is an important part of our community,” Pukkila said.

The showcase begins Monday with the Celebration of Undergraduate Research Symposium, where 140 undergraduates will present posters and platforms on their projects from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Student Union.

On Wednesday, four UNC undergraduates selected by a faculty committee will travel to Raleigh with student researchers from across the UNC system to present their research to legislators.

And Friday, six students will fly to Miami to represent UNC at the Atlantic Coast Conference Undergraduate Research Symposium.

“This is really the way to see that your ideas have value, in a community that values ideas,” she said.

Pukkila said the week creates a forum for researchers and a chance for other students to realize they can pursue original research.

“The office wants to make students aware that anyone can do research,” said Chelsey Bentley, a sophomore who works as an undergraduate research assistant.

Anna Peterson, vice president of the Roosevelt Institute, said the policy research group hopes to interest more undergraduates in research with today’s symposium.

Peterson said pursuing independent projects makes students more academically engaged.

“You have a much more organic experience,” she said. “You get to go where your research takes you.”

Contact the University Editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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