Students as Scholars Initiative Puts an Emphasis on Undergraduate Research
By Beth Pullias
The students stood next to their research posters in the Center for the Arts lobby, waiting to speak to interested guests about their work from the past year. These students had questioned, concluded, developed, and sometimes created prototypes on a wide variety of complex and specific topics. Have we mentioned that they are undergraduates?
The Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research, also known as OSCAR, hosted its first annual Celebration of Student Scholarship in May. Fifty students from various disciplines participated in the events, with research ranging from the design and development of the electronic notebook to examining gender stereotypes in popular picture books. Music students even played their original compositions for piano.
OSCAR is the home of the Students as Scholars initiative, which was sparked by the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), a part of the university’s reaccreditation process by Southern Association for Colleges and Schools.
Within the OSCAR program are two functions. One is a curriculum component to help implement research into classes and provide funding to faculty to use research in the classroom. The other purpose is to offer direct support to undergraduate students doing research via the department website and funding opportunities like the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program and the Undergraduate Student Travel Fund.
The Undergraduate Research Scholars Program is designed to give undergraduates an authentic research or scholarly experience under the guidance of a mentor. The students receive financial support and/or academic credits for their project while developing academic skills.
The students who presented at this year’s celebration were invited by the QEP Leadership Council. Invitations were extended, for this year only, to winners of their respective college’s research presentations, specific OSCAR students, and those funded for travel in order to present at conferences. The students presented their work in poster and demonstration formats.
Applied computer science major Luke W. Faraone, a freshman, presented his research, “AMPED: A System of Usable Authentication” at the event.
“Through collaboration with my faculty mentor, Robert Simon, and the assistance of the OSCAR office, I have been able to pursue my research interests more effectively,” says Faraone. “Dr. Simon has consulted with me at regular intervals throughout the development of my project. His involvement has enabled me to produce a superior system as the result of my research. When it comes time to attempt publication of my research, OSCAR will make available resources to assist with the process.”
“Students as Scholars is a huge initiative that really says how much Mason values undergraduate scholarship,” says Rebecca Jones, assistant director of OSCAR. “Hopefully, we will shift the culture of the campus and show that undergraduates are capable of doing research that can really contribute to their disciplines.”
During the celebration, five mentors received the new OSCAR Mentor Award to recognize their outstanding work with undergraduate research students. These recipients also foster a culture of student scholarship in support of Mason’s Students as Scholars initiative. This year’s recipients were:
- Daniel Cox, School of Systems Biology
- Shannon Davis, Department of Sociology and Anthropology
- Catherine Tompkins, Department of Social Work
- Adam Winsler, Department of Psychology
- Terry Myers Zawacki, Department of English
In the future, Jones hopes to develop the event into a conference that includes oral and poster presentations. The most important aspect of all of the research is dissemination of the work.
“We want to know that the work we are funding is actually being spread and shared into the knowledge base of that field. That’s the whole point of research, not just to keep it to ourselves but to spread that knowledge and add to the larger story,” said Jones.
This summer, 31 students are participating in the URSP, 14 part-time and 17 full time researchers. In the fall, OSCAR hopes to have 40 students in the program and as many as 60 students per semester, or 120 students participating throughout future years.
This article originally appeared on the university’s News site.
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