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Undergraduates Honored for Risk-Taking in Research

UROP Symposium recognizes the work of 85 students

Presidential candidates hoping to bone up on the hot political topic of immigration reform could benefit from a conversation with Michelle Mann (CAS’08), who spent last summer in Paris researching the history of immigration policy at the French National Archives. For several weeks Mann pored over primary sources that would advance her study of the relationship between immigrant laborers and the French labor movements in the 19th century. On October 19, she was one of 85 students whose research was recognized at the 10th Annual Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program Symposium.

UROP, founded in 1997, supports undergraduates in all academic fields who design research projects in conjunction with faculty mentors. The program, whose hallmark is one-on-one mentoring by a faculty member, helps students connect with faculty interested in involving undergraduates in their research and provides financial support for summer research fellowships, academic year stipends, research supplies, and travel for research or to professional meetings.

Mann, who won the second-place poster prize, had researched French immigration policy for almost a year before she applied for a UROP fellowship. “Having a chance to go in and work directly from primary sources is what gave my work something original to offer,” says Mann, who applied her French course work to translating documents.

In Paris, Mann found that many of the journals she had planned to use were “turning into dust,” she says, and the sources scattered, but she came away  pleased with the information she did find. The Historical Society, a scholarly association housed at BU, was also pleased: Mann has been invited to present her research at its 2008 national conference, Migration, Diaspora, Ethnicity, and Nationalism in History, being held at Johns Hopkins University next June.

The first-place poster prize went to Marc Kelechava (CAS’08), who spent the summer sifting through challenging material and hitting many dead-ends in his attempt to develop a mathematical model that can be applied to epidemiological studies. Kelechava found the experience well worth it and hopes to make research his career.

Sharon Gonzalez Barbosa, who won the third-place poster prize, traveled from the University of Puerto Rico to Boston to conduct her research. Gonzalez Barbosa’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship award, which is open to both non-BU and BU students and is sponsored by UROP, the National Science Foundation, and the Northeast Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, brought her to BU to study a new molecular mechanism of cell death using a fruit fly model.

At the UROP symposium, held during Parents Weekend, these students and others who created poster presentations got a chance to discuss their work with faculty members, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, parents, friends, and fellow undergraduates. “The whole thing was highly interactive,” says Thomas Gilmore, a College of Arts and Sciences biology professor and director of UROP. “There were clearly many conversations going on about the students’ research findings, how they got into research, and where they were going in the future.”

Five of the students gave a 10- to 12-minute talk about their research instead of presenting a poster. Julie Olofson (CAS’08) was awarded the Best Student Talk Award for her research on the human brain’s activity as it transfers information from short-term to long-term memory.

“I joined UROP to have the experience of working in a lab as an undergrad. Few have this opportunity,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot about the research process and acquired a lot of respect and responsibility within my lab.”

Those interested in participating in UROP can click here for application details.

Rebecca McNamara can be reached at ramc@bu.edu.