UWM wins national award for undergraduate research excellence

Psychology major Hannah Sallmann and assistant professor of Psychology Adam Greenberg measure transcranial magnetic stimulation using a stimulation coil. This helps researchers study how mental activity can decline due to chemotherapy, a phenomenon often referred to as “chemo brain.” (UWM Photo/Alexis Amenson)

UWM has won a national award for the quality and depth of the research opportunities it provides to its undergraduate students.

The Council on Undergraduate Research honored UWM and one other institution, Union College in Schenectady, New York, with the 2018 Campus-Wide Award for Undergraduate Research Accomplishments (https://bit.ly/2r1nfNX). The annual award “recognizes institutions with exemplary programs that provide high-quality research experiences for undergraduates,” the council said in a news release.

Research is wired into the core of UWM as part of the university’s mission. It’s not just graduate students: More than 1,000 undergrads are involved in research each year, and half of graduating seniors have been involved with research.

“While many peer institutions have summer research programs, UWM is committed to supporting undergraduate research through campus employment throughout the entire year,” said Kyla Esguerra, deputy director of the Office of Undergraduate Research at UWM.

Biological Sciences major Leo Bohlmann and Conservation and Environmental Science major Ester Portnoy study how the makeup of compost affects plant growth at Cream City Farms. (UWM Photo/Alexis Amenson)

UWM has a long tradition of engaging undergraduate students in research, but over the last decade, the university has substantially expanded opportunities for collaboration between faculty and students through a wide array of programs offered through the Office of Undergraduate Research.

“This award recognizes UWM’s commitment to supporting faculty who want students to be involved in state-of-the-art research, said Nigel Rothfels, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research. “It is gratifying that the university is now receiving national recognition for the work of faculty, staff and students over many years.”

Plenty of support

The Office of Undergraduate Research coordinates a long list of programs that include opportunities as early as the summer before a student begins at UWM. The office also provides funding — in 2017-18, it gave out 659 awards that totaled more than $900,000.

Multiple programs at UWM support undergraduate research:

  • In the Support for Undergraduate Research Fellows program, students and faculty work together to write up a proposal for research, which can be funded for up to $2,000 per semester. So far this academic year, SURF is funding 258 students, with more that will be added in spring and summer.
  • The UR@UWM program offers the opportunity for incoming freshmen and transfer students to work as research assistants in the summer before beginning school. Many students cite the program as the reason they came to UWM, and many continue that research throughout their college careers.
  • First- and second-year students are paired with faculty mentors and participate in weekly seminars in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. High-achieving first-year students can participate in the Course Based Research Projects program, in which they take part in small, research-focused seminars.
    Biological Sciences major Sara Seidita studies how bugs called treehoppers create vibrations through plants to communicate with potential mates. (UWM Photo/Alexis Amenson)
  • Senior Excellence in Research Awards funds seniors who have been significantly involved in research at $5,000 in support for their final undergrad year.
  • The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement program, a federally funded TRIO program run out of the graduate school, is designed to increase the number of students from underrepresented, low-income, and first generation backgrounds who enter graduate studies leading to the doctorate. The program is open to juniors and seniors, and it offers a paid research internship.
  • In addition, UWM provides funding for research overseas and for travel to conferences to present research. Also, undergrads can present their work at an annual symposium on campus, the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, the UW System Symposium and the Research at the Rotunda event at the Wisconsin Capitol.

Research benefits students

UWM’s focus on research from the very start of a college student’s career pays dividends, Esguerra said.

“Undergraduate research is important because it provides the opportunity for undergraduate students to apprentice with their faculty, who are investigating questions that matter in their discipline,” Esguerra said. “Working closely with a research mentor and their team allows the student to hone problem-solving and critical thinking skills, learn relevant methods and techniques, and practice synthesizing information.”

“UW-Milwaukee is pleased to be recognized as a leader in undergraduate research,” Chancellor Mark Mone said. “Our undergraduates have the opportunity to make a difference right now by working side-by-side with our faculty on some of the toughest problems facing our community and our world. These experiences help students develop the critical-thinking and analytical skills desired by major employers.”

By John Schumacher, University Relations