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UROP Director Turns Attention to Her Own Research

Mary Erskine will step down to focus on teaching, scholarship

Mary Erskine has increased the size of UROP by 50 percent. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky.

Mary Erskine, a College of Arts and Sciences professor of biology, who has been director of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) since October 2004, is leaving that position to focus on research and teaching. Provost David Campbell describes Erskine as an inspiring leader who greatly expanded and improved the program.

“Mary has overseen a 50 percent increase in the program’s size and an expansion to all areas of research, scholarship, and creative activity,” says Campbell. “She has also played an important role in AGEP [Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate], which provides enhanced accessibility for minority students in research programs over the summer.”

Erskine, who came to BU in 1985 and was appointed a Clare Boothe Luce Professor of Biology in 1990, says she is pleased to have had the opportunity to advance UROP. “Directing the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program was extremely rewarding because of the positive impact that is often made on students’ lives,” she says. “Exposure to research in one’s field as an undergraduate can and does help students make decisions about graduate school and their future careers.” 

UROP, created in 1997 to foster faculty-mentored undergraduate research, helps students apply for funding and prepare research proposals. A faculty committee evaluates the proposals and decides which ones merit funding. In addition to the major funding by BU, UROP programs are supported by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Institutes of Health.

Erskine says the biggest challenge facing UROP today is reaching a greater number of students in a broader range of disciplines so that the program becomes an integral part of the undergraduate experience at Boston University.

Campbell describes the program as an essential component in helping undergrads gain valuable research experience. “Because of UROP,” he says, “we can expose our undergrads to cutting-edge research while they’re still undergrads. In some sense, for students who want to pursue a career in science and research, that’s as important as internships are to people going on in business or the arts. It’s important to note that under Mary’s guidance, the annual UROP poster presentation has become a major event.”

Campbell says he will appoint a small advisory committee to review nominations for a new director. He encourages all members of the BU community to forward nominations to his office by June 1.

Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu.