Several of these student researchers were not undergraduates from Tech, so for them, this summer was also about experiencing the campus and the surrounding community. These students spanned the whole country, from schools such as the University of Illinois, Northern Kentucky University, Hampton University, University of Maryland- Baltimore County, Florida A&M, University of Virginia, NC A&T, Elizabeth City State, University of California-Berkeley, Concord University, University of Memphis and the University of Puerto Rico. It was certainly a diverse group of students, with different majors and different interests.
As a moderator in one of the rooms at the symposium, one could see the faculty mentors and their lab colleagues beaming with pride as their particular student would go up and present their research project to the audience. You could sense the student’s nervousness as they tried to explain complex scientific concepts in layman terms. These students were clearly transformed over the period of 10 weeks.
One of the main tenants of the Virginia Tech Strategic Plan is this concept of learning, discovery and engagement — and among these is the notion of undergraduate research. Whether it is the Undergraduate Research Institute through the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, the undergraduate research of the Honors program, or undergraduate research symposiums sponsored by individual departments and colleges, there is opportunities all throughout campus. In addition, Tech is an active participant in the ACC Meeting of the Minds and other regional efforts that focus on undergraduate research.
We often talk about the importance of undergraduate research, but there remain hindrances to its growth. Some of these are hesitancy among faculty to serve as mentors for students, or the lack of a clear definition for what undergraduate research is, and a lack of awareness among the undergraduate students themselves. Some programs don’t get filled to capacity due to the lack of applications, as well as the increasing competitive market for students. Students can be unsure about how to go about the process and who to talk to about such opportunities.
As we prepare for the new academic year, let’s do a better job of spotlighting the efforts of these undergraduate researchers, the impact that these programs make and also focus on ways to encourage students to become actively engaged in more of these opportunities in the future.