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Getting Ahead of the Curve

The UNLV Office of Undergraduate Research’s new program immerses local high school students in the opportunities research at UNLV has to offer.

Research  |  Jul 7, 2017  |  By Alexandra Karosas
UNLV Office of Undergraduate Research's Becky Boulton, Nicole Thomas, and Liam Frink.

UNLV Office of Undergraduate Research program coordinator Becky Boulton (left), student ambassador and undergraduate Nicole Thomas, and executive director Liam Frink helped launch the inaugural Research Skills Academy for local high school students this month. (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Photo Services)   

When Nicole Thomas was in high school — only a few short years ago — she didn’t know much about research, let alone where it could take her academically and professionally. But the UNLV biology major now has plenty of wisdom to share on the subject.

“When I first started getting involved in research at UNLV, it wasn’t all about mixing chemicals and wearing lab coats and laughing maniacally,” she said. “It was about finally having an outlet where I could pursue questions that I always wanted answered.”

Quickly she realized her fellow students had figured that out before she had. And they already had the skills to take advantage of UNLV’s research opportunities.

It’s an observation she shared with Liam Frink, executive director of the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR), after joining its undergraduate ambassador program. “I wished I’d had more exposure to research when I was in high school,” she remembers telling him, “because the students who attended schools with research or technical programs seemed to be ahead of the game.”

Thus, UNLV’s first-ever OUR Research Skills Academy was born.

Becky Boulton (OUR’s program coordinator), Thomas, and the OUR team created a two-day event, taking place July 10 and 11, designed specifically for local high school students that’s packed with a full schedule of research-related activities. Co-sponsored by the College of Education, this inaugural Research Skills Academy includes an introduction to research through tours and talks, opportunities to meet undergraduate and graduate students and world-class faculty researchers, career development training, and a campus resource fair.

“Others at UNLV are and have been working with local high school students; for instance, the CAEO is doing terrific work in this area,” Frink said. “We wanted to add a focus on research as a professional process to that, though, for several reasons.

“Based on our consults with students, research is often perceived of as an exclusive, ‘elite’ activity — and in some ways it is since it takes resources for a student to dedicate themselves to the research process — but what we want to highlight with the OUR services is that we and other units on campus will actively support their efforts.

“It’s important too that students and their parents know that research skills translate to numerous career paths, many of them right here in Southern Nevada.”

Thirty students representing 15 schools across Clark County will be attending the academy.

“We initially contacted eight Title I schools to really focus on underrepresented and first-generation college students,” Boulton said. “Then we started getting phone calls from other schools and individual students wanting to get involved; it seemed the word had spread to everyone. We’ve had a great response to this new venture.”

The OUR team is already partnering with Ed W. Clark High School on a fall mini Research Skills Academy.

“Ideally, students will make a connection with our campus or a member of our faculty and want to be part of all the great things happening at UNLV,” Thomas said.

For more about the services offered by the Office of Undergraduate Research, please visit