Kent State’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience Pivots Due to Pandemic
The Office of Student Research (OSR) had already begun reviewing applications for the 2020 Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) fellowships when stay-at-home orders due to the COVID pandemic forced cancelation of this popular program. However, rather than simply cancel, Ann Gosky, director of the OSR in the Division of Research and Sponsored Programs, immediately began redesigning the SURE program to be conducted virtually.
“We weren’t sure whether the SURE program could be conducted virtually, but in the end we had more folks participating this past summer than ever before,” Gosky said. “I really credit the faculty. They identified remote projects and designed remote experiences that students were able to engage in.”
The 2020 SURE program funded 77 projects, with participants spanning 37 different majors. Gosky hopes to see more growth in the upcoming summer.
“The SURE program is open to students in all majors and to students on all of KSU’s campuses,” Gosky said. “We have engaged students in fashion, theatre, music, biological science, sociology...basically every major.”
This past summer, SURE funded a theatre research project, the first theatre project to participate in the program. Senior theatre studies student Kelly Harper worked with Kent State Professor of Theatre Yuko Kurahashi, Ph.D., to research the background of Elizabeth Swados play, “Missionaries.” Kent State's School of Theatre and Dance hopes to use Harper and Kurahashi’s research to stage a production of “Missionaries” sometime in the future.
Gosky explained that students are not limited to conducting research within their own fields either.
“What is interesting is that students don’t necessarily do research in the traditional sense, such as a biology student doing biology research,” Gosky said. “We have had a marketing student do research in Aerospace engineering. Often researchers collaborate across areas of study.”
For instance, this past summer, a nursing student collaborated with an architecture student to study architectural designs on a medical floor and how they impacted the movement and efficiency of medical staff and the quality of care to patients.
Students are given the opportunity to either assist faculty in their research or explore independent research under the mentorship of a faculty member.
“For the most part, the students are assisting the faculty member with their research, but many times faculty members are also willing to help the students with independent projects,” Gosky said. “If a student approaches them, and it’s a good fit, the faculty member usually says ‘yes.’”
In addition, 2020 was the first year in which a part-time SURE option was offered. Rather than the usual 40 hours per week, the part-time option offers a 20 hours per week schedule, allowing funding to be spread among more students.
“We had a number of faculty use the 20 hour part-time program last year, and as a result we could engage more students. In 2021 I am hopeful that we are able to fund as many if not more projects than we did last year.”
Gosky said the faculty mentoring aspect is one of the greatest strengths of the program.
“Faculty members are the reason we have the program,” said Gosky. “They have always been tremendously supportive. It’s an incredible experience for faculty because it provides support for their research and makes them more productive. In addition, students are exposed to an exceptional learning experience.”
While in the program, students and their faculty mentors meet at least once a week. Undergraduate students also work closely with graduate students.
“At a minimum, students and faculty meet once a week, some students see their faculty mentor almost every day,” Gosky said. “Undergrad students also collaborate with the graduate students who are involved in mentoring as well, you often work with a full team in the lab.”
Gosky emphasized the importance of undergraduate research regardless of a student's major.
“Regardless of what a student is going to do after graduation, whether it’s graduate school or medical school or finding employment, research trains them to be problem solvers,” Gosky said. “It trains them to objectively look at the facts and analyze situations.”
Research shows that students engaged in undergraduate research programs persist through college at a greater rate and present higher GPAs.
“Students who participate in undergraduate research tell us that their college experience is better, it’s a higher quality experience,” Gosky said. “I think that has a lot to do with the one-on-one relationship that they build with faculty.”
Looking forward to next summer, Gosky said “We are being maximally flexible in planning for SURE 2021. At this point we are looking at in-person, virtual and hybrid models of conducting the program.”
SURE dates for 2021 are June 7-July 21. Submissions for the 2021 SURE program are being accepted now and applications will be accepted until February 19, 2021.
Learn more about the SURE program and find the application.