Symposium raising profile of undergrad research at Mines

Undergraduate students contribute to innovative and cutting-edge research all across the Colorado School of Mines campus, working hand in hand with faculty mentors in every academic discipline and department.  

More than 80 of these student researchers will present their work at the first-ever Undergraduate Research Symposium on April 26. The poster presentation, part of Mines Innovation Week, will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. in the lobby of the CoorsTek Center for Applied Science and Engineering. The top posters will win cash prizes of $550 for first place, $350 for second and $250 for third.

"Undergraduate research is one of the highest-impact practices in undergraduate education. One of the important competencies is disseminating information on what they learn. This symposium provides a great opportunity for that, for students to present their research to the Mines community," said Lakshmi Krishna, research professor and interim director of undergraduate research at Mines. "Even for freshmen and sophomores, new students who are just starting to think about research, it's very valuable to come and see what their peers are doing."

More than half of the symposium presenters this year are juniors, sophomores or freshmen, Krishna said. All 130 students who receive the Mines Undergraduate Research Fellowship will be required to present at the annual event starting next year.

The symposium also kick-starts a larger university effort to raise the profile and create new pathways for undergraduate research at Mines, being led by Krishna and Eric Toberer, associate professor of physics and one of the inaugural Ben L. Fryrear Endowed Chairs for Innovation and Excellence.
 
Toberer, who joined Mines in 2011 and did his undergraduate studies at Harvey Mudd College, has dedicated his three-year Fryrear Chair term to undergraduate research and catalyzing a distinctive program on campus.

"I wouldn't be where I am today had it not been for some really superb mentorship when I was an undergrad. I had a mentor who gave me three years of good advice and let me work in her lab despite not necessarily being a competent scientist. She sent me to Greece to work for a summer. She sent me to Los Alamos to work for another summer. She showed me what a world-class mentor can be," Toberer said. "Mines students should have the same opportunity to have someone really stand up for them."

Best practices for undergraduate research continue to evolve and change and Toberer said he hopes to position Mines to be a national player in the field.

"What can we do that's different from everyone else that pushes the bar forward?" Toberer said. "There's an archaic sense that undergraduate research is faculty-directed, that I'm going to go wash some test tubes. We're trying to push how we can make it less faculty-focused and more student outcome-focused."

Among the initiatives under consideration are creating a new research-focused campus tour for prospective students and establishing a dedicated fund for on-campus summer research positions for undergraduates. A new undergraduate research website is under development, and they are also working closely with a group led by McBride Honors Program Director Sarah Hitt that is working to launch an undergraduate research journal. 

"The best way to learn science is by doing science, doing research," Krishna said. "It's very well proven that students who engage in research early on, during their undergraduate education, gain a fresh perspective on their career goals. Owning and working through the project helps them to be more creative and develop life skills such as critical thinking, entrepreneurial spirit, resource management and long-term planning that are equally important in both academia and industry."

Applications for the 2018-2019 Mines Undergraduate Research Fellowship are now being accepted through May 4. The fellowship, which provides students with hourly-based employment as a research assistant on faculty-led research projects, is open to all full-time undergraduate students currently enrolled at Mines. 

The application is available at mines.edu/undergraduate-research/undergraduate-research-fellowship-application/. A list of available research projects can be found at mines.edu/undergraduate-research/available-projects.

CONTACT
Emilie Rusch, Public Information Specialist, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3361 | erusch@mines.edu
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu