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Students pursue research activities

Katie Peralta | Thursday, September 17, 2009

Notre Dame students have long had the reputation of being bright and curious scholars, but some take their interest to the next level by participating in the University’s Undergraduate Research Program, an opportunity for students to pursue their academic interests beyond the classroom.

The University hopes to encourage more students to participate every year and present their work at the annual University Scholars Conference, which takes place each spring.

Cecilia Lucero, assistant director for Undergraduate Research, said the amount of students who normally participate is difficult to gauge.

“For the Undergraduate Scholars Conference, at least, I would say 250 students,” Lucero said. “Same with REU [Research Experiences for Undergraduates] and other summer programs.”

Lucero said the program attracts students from all grade levels.

“Fewer first-year students,” Lucero said. “But we did have a handful present at the Undergraduate Scholars Conference in the last two years.”

The program draws students from a wide variety of majors, Lucero said, but most from natural sciences like biology as well as social sciences like psychology.

“There are few business students, though, who undertake academic research in business fields, and we’re trying to change this,” Lucero said.

The process of undergraduate research, Lucero said, is a long one – from brainstorming ideas to finding a faculty mentor to finding and applying for funding.

“There’s plenty of advantages,” Lucero said. Some include, she said, the thrill of discovery, understanding of how scientists and scholars work, enhanced job and graduate school preparation and meaningful relationships with faculty, among others.

The new Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement (CUSE) helps students through the research process.

“CUSE also sponsors the annual Undergraduate Scholars Conference and supports student academic journals and other symposia where students can present their intellectual work,” Lucero said.

This year’s research students are enthusiastic about the prospect of scholarly discovery.

James Masters, a senior chemistry major, is conducting his research on the transition of metal-catalyzed reactions of organic compounds.

Masters became interested in the topic after taking organic chemistry his sophomore year.

“I quickly realized that I wanted to perform groundbreaking research in the field,” Masters said. “It’s inspiring to think that our research may result in the synthesis of entirely new pharmaceuticals or in more efficient synthesis of existing pharmaceuticals.”

Eleanor Huntington, a senior who majors in History and Film, conducted research at the Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Mbarara, Western Uganda, for her senior history honors thesis. She is writing her thesis on the Hutu Rwandese refugees following the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

“I wanted to learn more about the genocide after visiting the country during my 2008 fall study abroad program in Uganda,” she said.

Tim Reidy, a fifth-year architecture student, also chose to focus on Uganda as a subject of his research project. He plans on designing a marketplace for a town in northern Uganda.

Reidy visited Uganda for the third time this past summer.

“I would love to continue my work with Uganda, possibly through a Fulbright Fellowship [after graduation],” Reidy said.

Master, Huntington and Reidy all received funding for their studies. The University also often awards credit to students who participate in undergraduate research.

In addition to a grant proposal workshop held Wednesday, Undergraduate Research will hold a grant another workshop Wednesday, September 30, from 3:30-4:30 p.m. The deadline for submitting fall research proposals is Friday, October 2.