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February 26, 2010

Utah State University Undergraduate Research Program Celebrates 35 Years of Hands-On Learning

In 1975, Bill Gates founded Microsoft, NBC aired the first episode of “Saturday Night Live” and USU became one of the first universities in the nation to encourage undergraduate research, through a new Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunity (URCO) grant program. This year, USU undergraduate research celebrates its 35th birthday, with a party, cake, and another year of student discovery.


Since the program’s inception, nearly 1,000 students at USU have conducted grant-supported research with the support of the URCO program.  Each year, more than a quarter of graduating seniors from USU engage in independent research, and 1,300 undergraduates receive employment in on-campus research positions.


“Undergraduate research helps students build stronger resumes with real-life experiences—making them better candidates when shopping the job market,” said Joyce Kinkead, associate vice president for research at USU. “Because USU’s Undergraduate Research Program allows students to choose projects to fit within their interests, students are more engaged in their studies. Additionally, student researchers are paired with faculty mentors, who can open additional doors for student researchers in the form of fellowships and prestigious awards and provide networking for graduate studies.”


Ahead of its time in implementing an undergraduate research program, USU is home to the second oldest in the nation, with only MIT’s predating it.  USU has further accelerated its program since 2000, when an associate vice president position was created to directly oversee the program. Kinkead now holds this position.


Thanks to USU’s Undergraduate Research Program’s extensive student opportunities, undergraduate researchers at USU participate in events such as Research on Capitol Hill and the Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research, where they share their ideas with other students and government officials from around the state. A number of students even share their research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, held annually at various universities across the nation.

Undergraduate researchers at USU are accorded an impressive list of achievements that includes participation in the USU Research Fellows program and the David and Terry Peak Undergraduate Researcher of the Year awards. Students can now even receive a designation on their transcript setting them apart as researchers.  USU students are also getting state and national recognition, being named as Utah Governor’s scholars and Goldwater and Rhodes scholars.

“Hands-on inquiry and study builds on classroom knowledge,” said Kinkead. “The discovery and application of knowledge is a hallmark of a land-grant university. Undergraduate Research is a critical component of that mission. The real secret to our success in undergraduate research is a faculty that cares deeply about its students and who enjoy working individually with them.”

Today, USU’s undergraduate research program provides students with numerous opportunities to share their work with the USU community and with other audiences across the nation. In 35 years, the Undergraduate Research Program has grown significantly since 1975, and has provided USU students with a legacy of hands-on learning.


Undergraduate Research at USU will celebrate 35 years during Student Showcase on March 30 when Alan Jenkins, professor emeritus at Oxford University and a leading proponent of undergraduate research in the United Kingdom, presents on the topic “Undergraduate Research for All.” On the following day, March 31, he will be featured in a 10:30 a.m. workshop on “Bringing Research into the Classroom.” Please RSVP for this workshop at http://researchweek.usu.edu/htm/undergraduate/jenkins-workshop-rsvp.

Utah State is an institutional member of the Council on Undergraduate Research. For more information on USU’s Undergraduate Research Program, visit: http://research.usu.edu/undergrad.

Writer: Jacoba Mendelkow Poppleton, jacoba.mendelkow@usu.edu


Contact: Joyce Kinkead, Associate Vice President for Research & Professor, 435.797.1706; joyce.kinkead@usu.edu