FSU launches new initiative to promote student research

Michelle Bourgeois

Florida State University students will soon have more opportunities to conduct research and pursue creative projects with the establishment of a new office to promote such activities at the undergraduate level.

The Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors (URACE) will coordinate the university’s efforts to strengthen and develop research opportunities for students pursuing bachelor’s degrees. Michelle Bourgeois, a professor of communication disorders who has earned national recognition for her research on memory aids to help people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, has been named director of URACE. A faculty advisory committee also will provide direction for the office.

"In addition to being a distinguished researcher in her own right, Dr. Bourgeois has been an inspiring mentor for many undergraduate students," said Undergraduate Studies Dean Karen Laughlin. "Her creativity, energy and enthusiasm for the task should ensure that this new program gets off to an excellent start."

The new office is one way to see that undergraduate students both contribute to and benefit from FSU’s Pathways of Excellence initiative, an effort launched by President T.K. Wetherell in 2005 to enhance the university’s standing as one of the top research and graduate education institutions in the United States, Laughlin said.

While almost all graduate students must conduct research to earn an advanced degree, many students pursuing bachelor’s degrees do not. Involving undergraduates in research, however, can result in a win-win situation for both students and universities, Laughlin said, pointing to evidence that suggests students can improve their critical thinking and communication skills while universities see increased graduation and retention rates.

"In addition to helping to keep current students engaged in the university’s research mission, heightened awareness of the availability of research opportunities can help the university recruit academically motivated and talented students and make the public aware of excellent work undergraduate students are doing in partnership with their faculty mentors," she said.

From research on the dynamics of calcium in the pancreas’ beta cells to women’s rights in Uganda, FSU students already are engaging in research and creative activities in a range of disciplines and have the opportunity to obtain at least some financial support for doing so, Laughlin said. The rates of participation vary significantly from academic discipline to discipline, however, and students from disadvantaged backgrounds are involved in research at a lower rate. The new office will help expand these opportunities across disciplines and make them available to a broader range of students.

The office will be housed in a newly renovated space in the University Center that will bring the Honors Program, the Office of National Fellowships and Undergraduate Research/Creative Endeavors together in one coordinated program, Laughlin said.

"This new program will complement the University’s Honors Program as well as our highly successful Office of National Fellowships," she said.  "We look forward to expanding opportunities for students to earn ‘honors in the major’ as well as to engage in research projects that will position them to compete for prestigious national awards."

The office’s first tasks will include reviewing an inventory of existing undergraduate research efforts at FSU and making recommendations for development or expansion of these programs, according to Bourgeois. The new office also will develop a network of departmental undergraduate research and creativity liaisons and assist students in finding research opportunities that fit their academic and career goals.

"Our students will be the future leaders, scientists and academicians in our increasingly complex and global world," Bourgeois said. "I am looking forward to helping students develop the confidence to pursue opportunities that challenge them academically and creatively."