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Database promotes undergraduate research

| Thursday, March 6, 2014

project lever graphicKeri O'Mara

The University of Notre Dame is currently in its trial phase of integrating a new undergraduate research database, Project Lever, as part of an effort to increase undergraduate research.

Developed by Harvard graduate Svetlana Dotsenko, Project Lever is a database that matches students’ research interests with professors, courses, grants and other resources based on their search topics

Alex Sun, student government representative, said Project Lever aims to “increase the quality and quantity of senior theses.”

“Project Lever is an online database that is meant to connect students with the resources that are available on their campus,” Sun said. “If we see a large increase in quality and quantity, we’re hoping to expand it to other departments.”

Sun said the project is implemented through the College of Arts and Letters, although student government helps promote the initiative among the student body. Dean Joseph Stanfiel of the College of Arts and Letters said he serves as coordinator for the project.

“It really has enhanced the educational experience of students in the college,” Stanfiel said. “It makes the connection with someone’s raw interests in research.”

According to Stanfiel, representatives from Project Lever approached him on the possibility of implementing the project at the University several weeks ago. Stanfiel said he chose the political science and economics departments to first sample the program due to their overlapping fields of research. He said he felt students in both departments would benefit most from the trial period.

“Dean McGreevy has made a very conscious effort to push undergraduate research and thesis writing,” Stanfiel said. “It struck me that this would contribute to that effort.”

Although Notre Dame is still in its testing phase, Harvard, MIT, Columbia and Tufts are among a list of other universities already using the project.

“The neat thing about Project Lever is that it is continuously updated,” said Sun. “It’s always searching for new resources throughout campus.”

Members of the Project Lever initiative include Notre Dame economics professor Mary Flannery and political science director of undergraduate studies Josh Kaplan and associate director Carolina Arroyo.

Flannery said Project Lever has a broad research focus and serves as a good introductory resource for sophomores and juniors as they investigate possibilities in undergraduate research.

“Anything that gets students thinking about doing research and looking at what kind of research professors are doing is a good step,” Flannery said. “I see this ultimately as a resource for sophomores and juniors when they try to figure out what to do.”

Both Stanfiel and Sun said they hope the trial phase proves successful enough to allow the initiative to expand to other departments and colleges across the University.

“If the results are strong, I think [Project Lever] could help everybody,” Stanfiel said.

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