In an effort to stimulate research at the undergraduate level, The University of New Mexico College of Arts & Sciences funds nearly two dozen proposals every year through a program called the Undergraduate Research Initiative (UGRI).

According to Tom Turner, associate dean for research in the College of Arts & Sciences, the effort serves more than just a single purpose.

Microscope Research

“The funding really helps students engage in research activities directly or it allows students to go to meetings where they can disseminate the results of their research to professionals in their field, which allows for networking and those kinds of opportunities,” said Turner. “So, what it does is kind of close the loop between our desire to give students the research experience and allow them to be professionals.”

The College accepts student written proposals twice a year – at the beginning of both the Spring and Fall semesters. Each project must be backed by a faculty mentor with the proposal summarizing the planned research or scholarship and its importance in a clear and concise way.

Turner says the process of writing these proposals can be very beneficial for students. It not only helps them figure out how to articulate their ideas but it also gives them a sense of what grant writing entails.  

After a rigorous review process, only 20 proposals are selected for funding every year. The initiative has been in place since 2013 and, according to Turner, continues to see more and more applicants. The Fall 2016 submission round yielded more than 30 proposals, with 10 receiving a $500 award through the College. The money can be used as student salary, support for travel or for research supplies.

Fall 2016 Undergraduate Research Initiative Award Recipients

Student Faculty Mentor Department
Jenifer Richards Heather Edgar Anthropology
Xena Mapel Michael Andersen Biology
Fiona Nguyen Ben Hanelt Biology
Melissa Baca Jack Trujillo English
Niky Taylor Louis Scuderi Earth and Planetary Sciences
Brandon Martinez Melissa Axelrod Linguistics
Montie Avery Matthew Pennybacker Mathematics & Statistics
Jeremy Metzner Paul Schwoebel Physics & Astronomy
Robert Reyna Sally Seidel Physics & Astronomy
Elizabeth Sneddon Benjamin Clark Psychology

The latest winning proposals come from eight different departments within the College of Arts of Sciences. Overall, the College gives out $10,000 a year through the initiative – money well spent, according to Turner.  

“It’s a relatively small investment for the College Arts & Sciences but the payoff is enormous because it gives our students the opportunity to work with their mentors and to coalesce their ideas in a way they might not otherwise,” he said.

At many universities, research opportunities can be somewhat limited for undergraduate students, especially those studying in the humanities or social sciences. At UNM, faculty and administrators place a significant emphasis on making research accessible for undergrads. Turner says many times it’s those hands-on projects that can really make the difference in stimulating a student’s love for a particular subject.

Turner says the UGRI is now run similar to a grant competition, with students being forced to submit higher quality proposals to stand out from other applicants. Turner says he and his team look for compelling and clearly presented ideas along with proposals that will benefit the student’s educational goals.

“The UGRI is a really effective way to enhance the education of a student that really only a research university can offer,” said Turner. “It’s a real-world type experience but you get a chance to do it in a situation where you can get a lot of mentoring and a lot of feedback so you can really improve your game.”