Undergrad research program grows, student stipend boosted to $4,000

Tim Furey reviews with mentor Professor Paula Petrik his student research on banks and the Gilded Age. (Jake McLernon)
Tim Furey reviews with mentor Professor Paula Petrik his student research on banks and the Gilded Age. (Jake McLernon)

Program expansion for Mason opportunities for undergraduate research begins this summer, with new perks and larger stipends for students looking to develop research experience with a Mason community member with mutual interests.

Renamed the Undergraduate Research Program, the expansion now offers more development sessions and a higher stipend for both students and mentors. The new structure builds upon the now-extinct Undergraduate Apprenticeship Program, which also created funded research opportunities for undergraduate students with research interests. The boosted URSP program has grown out of the adoption of the “Students as Scholars” initiative for the university’s Quality Enhancement Plan last year, a five-year plan outlining university program development necessary for re-accreditation.

“It’s gotten a lot bigger, it’s gotten better funded, and there are more options and more flexibility than there has ever been before,” said Rebecca Jones, assistant director for the new Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, & Research, who oversees the URSP program.

Under the new Undergraduate Research Program, 10 students committed full-time to research with a mentor this summer will receive boosted stipends of $4000. Each student will be allotted $500 for materials and equipment, and Mason community member mentors will receive a stipend of $500, bringing the total award to $5000 per accepted application.

Ten new part-time student researchers, a new addition to the program, will receive an award totaling $1500, with $500 again going to a community member mentor. About 30 part-time awards will be available in fall 2012. Students will also be able to receive credit through the program during the academic year.

Among other changes from the previous program: for an URSP project, any “Mason community member” can serve as a mentor. Faculty can participate, as expected, but according to Jones, any staff member or senior administrator can also be approached. The term, at present, is loosely defined.

“If you actually have the question burning inside of you about something that maybe you learned in a certain class, then go talk to that professor,” said Jones. If an interest is more general, or if it is in a study area in which a student hasn’t had as much exposure, Jones encouraged those students to contact her for assistance in who may be interested.

Benefits to participating in the program, according to Jones, include gaining experience doing research that can make students competitive for graduate school or jobs post-graduation, but also the chance to develop a collaborative relationship with a mentor with mutual interest.

“The [mentor] relationship is just a lot more intimate than it is with a faculty member, where you have to actually seek out that faculty member on a regular basis,” said Jones, speaking of direct mentor-mentee collaboration that often can take place each week or daily, a manner different than traditional classes.

Current student researchers this semester are exploring topics ranging from local issues in environmental science to what bank closure documents can tell historians about the Guilded Age.

“[Undergraduate research with a mentor] is exploring something where that person doesn’t necessarily have an answer either,” said Jones. “ In fact, [mentors] probably don’t. That’s why it’s a research project.”

The application deadline for both the Summer and Fall research terms is soon: Monday, April 16. Frequently asked questions and full details about the process, which will look similar in future terms, are detailed online


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