Summer research program still taking applications

The deadline for students to apply for WCU’s new Summer Undergraduate Research Program is Friday, Feb. 12, and applications will be accepted until 4 p.m.

An intensive, eight-week residential program running from Monday, May 30, through Friday, July 22, SURP 2016 is open to undergraduate students who have secured a faculty mentor and who submit a research proposal with their application, accompanied by the mentor’s letter.

The program is an outgrowth of a previous one at WCU, but larger in scope.

“SURP 2016 sort of grew out of SURF 2008 (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship),” said Bill Kwochka, associate professor and head of the Department of Chemistry and Physics, who serves as the director of the this year’s program. “SURF 2008 was held solely in the chemistry program, while SURP 2016 is a university-wide initiative that encompasses all undergraduate majors. The word ‘research,’ in this case, refers to the scholarly and creative activities throughout the university from art to biology to engineering to music to sociology. The provost and dean of the Honors College wanted to extend this opportunity to all undergraduates.”

Organizers feel the program will benefit students in a number of ways through the one-on-one guidance of a faculty mentor and the immersive study. “Mentors provide personalized learning experiences and advising so that students can develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of their chosen field as well as explore career paths,” Kwochka said. “Research is a pretty intense experience, but all students I know who have participated in undergrad research have benefited in many ways. The process becomes very personal to them and they become more invested in their learning. In the process of trying to solve the puzzle of a research project, students hone their critical and analytical thinking skills and learn to work both independently and collaboratively. The confidence gained and the enthusiasm developed over the course of a project extends back into the classroom.”

As an example, he cited the initial SURF program.

“Back in 2008, the chemistry program was fortunate to receive funds from the Quality Enhancement Plan – thanks to Carol Burton – to have a residential, summer-long research experience for eight students,” Kwochka said. “It was modeled after the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. Each student was paired with a faculty mentor for an intensive and immersive learning experience. Of these eight students, seven went on to earn graduate degrees, though not all in chemistry.”

Students whose proposals are accepted for SURP 2016 receive a $3,480 stipend for their participation and three credits at the 300 level (an $800 value), though campus housing must be paid at a rate of $20 per day and they can select from one of two campus dining meal plans in the $900-$1,000 range.

Faculty mentors can earn a $4,000 salary for the eight weeks and receive department-account credit of $100 in discretionary funding toward the student’s research project. They also work with an incoming new student in the concurrent research scholar program for two of those weeks (Monday, June 20, through Friday, July 1).

Funding for the program comes from the office of Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar. “The provost has had a keen interest in undergraduate research for many years and understands what sort of impact it can have on a young person’s career,” Kwochka said.

For more information about the program, contact Jill Granger, dean of the Honors College, at 828-227-7383, or Kwochka at 828-227-3673. There also is a web page for SURP viewable at http://www.wcu.edu/learn/academic-enrichment/the-honors-college/ugres/Summer-Undergraduate-Research-Program.asp.