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Students receive first-time Harrison research grants
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Students receive first-time Harrison research grants

By Fariss Samarrai

The Faculty Senate awarded grants of up to $4,000 this week to 26 outstanding undergraduate students and their faculty mentors for support of innovative research projects in a variety of disciplines and schools. The students received the Faculty Senate Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards during a Feb. 2 ceremony in the Rotunda Dome Room.

The research awards are funded by a $100,000 gift from alumnus David A. Harrison III, a retired investment banker who has supported awards over the past several years to recognize exceptional faculty teaching and academic leadership. The Faculty Senate proposed this year to use the money to recognize and fund outstanding undergraduate research. This is the first time the Harrison Awards have provided grants for this purpose.

"These awards emerged from the idea that we should publicly recognize the strong interrelationship between teaching and scholarship," said Robert M. Grainger, professor of biology who heads the Faculty Senate's Research and Scholarship Committee. "We wanted to recognize and enhance the research side of undergraduate training.

During the fall, students were invited to apply for the grants and were required to describe their research project, detail their budget requirements and plan of action, and how they would collaborate with a faculty mentor. The selection committee reviewed 157 applications during the winter break, made their selections, and notified the 26 winners on Jan. 15. The awards range from $1,880 to a maximum of $3,000, depending on the needs of the particular project. Each student's faculty mentor will receive $1,000.

The winning students will begin work on their projects this semester and must complete their work by the end of summer. Final project reports will be submitted to the Faculty Senate, and plans are being developed for a way to highlight some of the projects next fall.

"What has inspired our selection committee is how inventive the students' project proposals are," said Grainger. "The projects are not mere reflections of what the student's faculty mentors are doing -- these are bright, creative, well thought-out efforts to make unique contributions to a particular field of learning. The students have demonstrated enormous energy, enthusiasm, talent and drive. These are the criteria we had, and the students came through shining."

Grainger says the committee wanted to make sure that the money would make the difference in a student's ability to accomplish a research project.

"If the student needs to travel, for example, or get a break from a job in order to do the work, we wanted to help make that happen."

One such winner, Elsa A. Olivetti, an engineering/materials science major, will use her grant to study how the bacteria Pseudomonas putida can be used to help clean up groundwater contamination.

"I plan to use the grant money to make two trips," Olivetti said. "One to the labs at the University of Iowa where the bacteria strain was developed, and the other to a field site where the bacteria could actually be used in groundwater cleanup studies."

Another student, Jeffrey I. Marcus, an architecture major, is investigating ways to provide security for public buildings while still representing open-door democracy in the architecture.

"In light of the Oklahoma City bombing, and attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa, it has become increasingly important for public buildings to balance increased security with the desire to maintain democratic openness," Marcus said. "I plan to use my grant to visit one or two U.S. embassies, as well as meet with experts on this subject in New York City and Washington, D.C. The goal of my project is to design a U.S. embassy as an exercise using the principles I learn during my investigation."

Third-year education major Jennifer A. Johnson will use her grant to look for ways to improve the recruitment of minorities into the teaching profession. She will visit high schools in Northern Virginia and the Tidewater region to conduct surveys and to interview minority students on their views of teaching as a career.

"I hope to gain insight to why more minorities are not interested in the teaching profession," said Johnson. "I then plan to develop recommendations for ways to recast teaching as a desirable career choice for more minorities."

According to Grainger, the Faculty Senate is hoping the University can find a way to fund undergraduate research awards as an annual honor for the most innovative student scholars and researchers.

"There is so much talent and drive among the undergraduates at this university, it would be a shame not to continue this initiative," he said.

The awards provide an opportunity for students to experience college as more than merely a route to a career, said Marcus.

"College should inspire creative thought and open people to new ideas, to become enlightened. These new research awards open up new opportunities for undergraduates to do exactly that, to explore ideas beyond Grounds, and to come back with new perspectives."


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