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Hands-on Research for Undergrad Scholars

An intensive mentorship program for first-generation students places undergraduates in the lab and out in the field. The goal is to inspire students to strive beyond their bachelor's degrees.
Research  |  Aug 21, 2012  |  By Tony Allen
Psychology undergrad Cyndy Anang presents her research during a scholars symposium. (R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Photo Services)

Scooping sediments from rural hot springs in search of new life; presenting genetic research to hundreds at national conferences; combing the community to find the answer to the latest anthropological question. Such summer activities are typical for university professors; but these are accomplishments of UNLV undergrads.

Fifteen students, many the first in their family to go to college, spent the summer working with top UNLV researchers as part of the McNair Scholars Institute. The federally funded program gives first-generation and underrepresented students a chance to step outside the classroom and see what it's really like to be a college professor. The young students conduct research in university labs and out in the field under the mentorship of professors.

"The McNair program is a win-win opportunity for both students and faculty," said Brian Hedlund, a microbiology professor. "I get a chance to work with some outstanding students, and students get a bona fide research experience, which helps them both professionally and personally."

The program is coordinated through the UNLV Center for Academic Enrichment and Outreach. In addition to their research projects, students attend professional and financial aid workshops and grad school prep seminar. They also present their research at regional and national conferences. Organizers hope this immersion convinces students that graduate education, and perhaps a career in higher education, is a possibility.

"It's exciting to mentor students that are the first in their family to go to college and who have the goal of obtaining their doctorates," said Larry Ashley, a professor in counselor education. "Being the first in my own family to graduate from college, I can relate to their concerns and fears. I never had a mentor, and it would have been very helpful."

University Communications caught up with several of this year's student participants. Read about their experience and plans for the future in the related articles below.