Before heading off for an international teaching assignment, Scott Mensing reflected on the advancements in undergraduate research at the University of Nevada, Reno. The Foundation Professor of Geography served in the part-time role of director of undergraduate research from 2015 to 2019, and is especially proud to have led the creation of two new programs, the Pack Research Experience Program (PREP), directly benefitting underrepresented students with an academic standing of freshman or sophomore, and the Community-Based Research Experience, providing awards to support undergraduate research that directly addresses community-based problems.
These additions plus the myriad offerings of programs and support to encourage undergraduates to pursue research, scholarly and creative activities are made possible by funding support primarily through Research & Innovation as well as the Associated Students of the University of Nevada (ASUN). Tanya Kelley, who joined the Undergraduate Research office, part of Research & Innovation, as coordinator in 2019, has been named to the director role which shifted to full-time as of 2020.
As Kelley described it, her office facilitates “direct hands-on research experiences” for undergraduate students under the mentorship of a faculty member.
“We want undergraduate students to get a fully dimensional learning experience by doing interactive research in addition to their coursework,” she said. “The two activities complement and strengthen the skill sets of students looking to make a meaningful impact in their profession.”
As Mensing has said: “They begin to see that one of the functions of a university is to develop knowledge, to test knowledge. Research works at the edges of what we don’t know. In classes, students mostly hear what we know, but the real education is developing those areas that we don’t know. It's a whole different way of looking at education, and this is what happens as we explore new knowledge in our research, scholarship and humanities settings.”
By providing various funding awards and facilitating faculty mentorship, the office of Undergraduate Research opens up access to more opportunities for undergraduates. This includes an International Research Experience program (February 18, 2020, submission deadline) offered in partnership with the University Study Abroad Consortium. Another foundational option is the Nevada Undergraduate Research Award program which directly supports the conduct of research, scholarly and creative activities by undergraduates and facilities faculty mentorship.
Kelley and Mensing are quick to point out that the programs offered through Undergraduate Research are open to students in all disciplines, including the social sciences, humanities, arts and STEM fields.
Undergraduate Research, said Kelley, helps “connect the dots between all of the research happening on campus. We have research opportunities that support a variety of work, from the biggest chemistry lab to an arts studio performance.”
For faculty, she added, “The burden of paying the students is removed. If you work as a mentor, you are getting a paid research assistant who is passionate, excited and has initiative.”