UNLV’s Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) is using nearly $240,000 in federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds to give UNLV faculty and student researchers the opportunity to restart or begin research training following delays created by the global pandemic.
State-issued COVID-19 restrictions on access to campus and labs significantly diminished the university’s capacity to involve undergraduate students in research.
Levent Atici, executive director of undergraduate research, says the abrupt shutdown of many of his office's programs had a negative impact on students’ professional and academic development, and thus their research and career readiness.
“The global pandemic impeded all of our students’ academic progress for sure, but underserved students faced challenges differentially and disproportionately because of already existing inequalities such as connectivity gap and lack of space and time to work remotely due to economic constraints,” said Atici.
Once students were given the greenlight to return to campus, Atici, with the support and help from the Division of Research senior leadership, applied for and received UNLV funds from the federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. The goal was to re-engage undergraduate researchers, to incentivize diverse and inclusive mentor-mentee collaboration opportunities, and to enhance undergraduate research skill development and capacity building.
As part of the one-time OUR 2021 Undergraduate Research Stimulus Program, the office invited faculty mentors and their undergraduate mentees to submit proposals for collaborative research projects to run between July 1 and December 1, 2021. There was an overwhelming response. Atici says every effort was made to fund as many of the requests as possible. In the end, OUR awarded $239,448 to 54 mentors and 90 mentees at 10 colleges and schools.
The program’s mentor-mentee track offered students $1,500 and their mentors $2,000 in incentive awards, while the course-based undergraduate research track paid $1,000 to faculty who integrate research into course syllabus.
Early Career DevelopmentNeuroscience professors Rochelle and Dustin Hines had received the Undergraduate Research Mentor Award in 2017. Rochelle says this experience has a big impact on the lives of student researchers.
“Both Dustin and I benefited from our early exposure to research,” she said. “It enabled us to explore what working in a lab was like and gain experience in the processes that scientists use to pursue answers to their questions. The experience we gained was an asset when we were being considered for graduate programs.”
Her undergraduate research students Amanjot Kailey and Betsua Garcia-Trujillo agree.
“Research is a privilege that I feel many students have to strive for, it has been so eye opening to what the real world is like,” Amanjot says. “Education is very important to me; I’m currently on the pre-med path and hope to attend medical school at UNLV.”
Betsua-Garcia also is planning to continue her education.
“I would like to go to grad school and earn a master’s degree in genetic counseling. I think it’s important for undergraduate students to conduct research because it can help students think more critically about how data was obtained.
"The critical thinking skills that we gain can be beneficial in our future careers regardless of what academic field we pursue.”
Diversifying Research Teams
A further goal of the program is to broaden involvement in UNLV’s undergraduate student research with an emphasis on ethno-racial, gender, and academic diversity.
Mentees are representative of UNLV’s diverse student body, self-identifying as Hispanic/Latino (28%), Asian (29%), Black/African American (7%), American Indian/Alaskan Native (3%), and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander (3%).
Mentors from UNLV’s College of Sciences, Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering, and College of Liberal Arts account for 81 percent of the faculty awardees with their students making up 79 percent of the mentees.
Additionally, faculty mentor participants come from a wide range of career stages. Atici says 52 percent are early-career faculty, 20 percent are mid-career, and 28 percent of the participants are full professors.
The stimulus program has piqued the interest of both faculty and student researchers, including many who have never participated in OUR activities before. Atici says undergraduate research is faculty-driven, student-centered, and institutionally supported. This program encompasses these three main pillars and epitomizes UNLV’s commitment to endorsing and supporting undergraduate research education at the highest level.
“We are thrilled to be able to provide our eminent faculty mentors with a small token of appreciation for their time, talent, and dedication to our undergraduate researchers,” Atici adds.
The stimulus program centers on student success, scaffolds around student life cycle stages, and focuses on fostering faculty-student collaboration through undergraduate research.
To take part in upcoming events and workshops or to learn more about publishing research in OUR’s Spectra Undergraduate Research Journal, visit the OUR website.