The Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program’s (UROP) annual Spring Symposium was held virtually on April 22. The symposium showcased hundreds of student research projects from the past academic year.
With six hour-long presentation sessions covering eleven research disciplines, this year’s symposium was entitled “Research ReImagined: A Call to Action – Creating Knowledge and Developing Solutions During Times of Adversity.” It served as the capstone event for student researchers and mentors to showcase their projects.
UROP was first established in 1988, and today the program has grown to be a primary driver for undergraduate participation in research at the University. UROP now accommodates between 1,200 and 1,400 student researchers annually who assist research mentors from all 19 of the University’s schools and colleges.
Julian Heilig, keynote speaker and Dean of the College of Education at the University of Kentucky, delivered a pre-recorded address at the beginning of the symposium. Hellig emphasized the importance of student research as a vital mechanism to facilitate professional growth.
As a University of Michigan alum and accomplished researcher, scholar and public advocate for K-12 education policy, Heilig attributed the start of his career to his experience as an undergraduate in UROP.
“That first research experience led to a research experience in China, which led to opportunities to apply for graduate school, which led to opportunities to work in a large urban school district in Houston, which led to an opportunity to get a Ph.D. at Stanford, which led to other opportunities,” Helig said.
LSA freshman Annie Cress, a UROP participant, conducted her research on how predation and predictive risk factors affect the rate at which monkeys vocalize. Cress agreed with Heilig about the impact her UROP experience has had on her future academic and career prospects.
“I’m really excited to have this under my belt,” said Cress. “I have always loved ecology and animal behavior, but doing this project made me realize that I think I might be more interested in sustainability or environmental sciences, so this experience helped me to understand where I want to go in the future with my education.”
Caitlin Burr, events and communications coordinator for UROP, told The Daily both the size of the program and its development throughout the past 32 years contribute to the high quality of the research projects facilitated by UROP mentors and advisors.
“With how many students (there) are in our program, they are given the opportunity to do some really amazing things,” Burr said.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Burr also commented on the impactful UROP projects concerning COVID-19 itself, which she said contributed to research on the virus and its social impacts.
“So many of our projects were COVID-related, whether it was vaccine research, or how certain populations were impacted by COVID,” Burr said. “(UROP students) are definitely achieving phenomenal things, and sometimes that excitingly starts with our program.”
Burr said UROP is unique because it strives to make research opportunities accessible for those who have not had prior formal research experience. Such is the case for LSA freshman Amber Yaldo, who researched the hopes and fears of youth as they were reengaged with school.
“I wanted to get an introduction to research and learn how to do it correctly to see if it was something I liked,” Yaldo said.
Yaldo said student research is hugely important as it allows undergraduates to ask important questions and find the answers for themselves.
Events such as the Spring Symposium that share student research with the community are of value because they bring increased attention to the work of students and their mentors, Heilig said. He said that by sharing and advocating for their research projects, the students are leaving their mark on not only UROP, but also the University as a whole.
“Curiosity-driven research creates an opportunity for you to leave a legacy — a legacy on Michigan and a legacy for your life,” Heilig said.
Though this year’s Spring Symposium may have looked and felt different on account of its virtual format, Burr shared with The Daily a couple words of encouragement she has for anyone considering getting involved in student research.
“Be curious, ask questions,” Burr said. “It’s never too late to get into research.”
Daily News Contributor Michael Deeter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.