Fellows’ experiences will vary, depending on their choices of degree programs and where they are in the decision-making progress regarding degrees. Some Fellows may still be exploring a variety of options, and a “tour” of a college’s offerings may be the best use of their time in year one while other Fellows may be certain of their career path and ready to undertake an apprentice with an individual faculty mentor. And, other Fellows may determine that a degree program in another College meets their needs. The Fellowship allows for exploration across the University and its more than 168 degree programs. Utah State University is comprised of eight colleges, and within those eight are 42 departments.
A few Fellows in the first year will actually engage in a project so deeply that they are asked to present at a professional conference, typically with their faculty mentor. In recent years, a math Fellow went to Italy with his mentor, a computer science Fellow to Las Vegas, a biology Fellow to New Orleans, a business Fellow to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research.
By the end of year one, a Fellow should have found a placement. At the end of each semester, Fellows file a report with the director of the program, the one at the end of spring term, summarizing the year and anticipating the next year.
Maintaining a GPA of 3.5 or higher is imperative. Fellows have reported that they could have avoided GPA problems if they had made different choices: not missing classes for family trips; asking for tutorial help early; not enrolling in classes at levels of 3000 and above; and putting their class work as priority one.
For the most part, year two is a time to get more involved in hands-on work. Depending on the field of study, this may mean working with a team that includes upper-division students, graduate students, and post-doctoral students as well as the faculty mentor. It may also be a time of adjustment, deciding on a specific or different degree program than originally thought. Because the university offers so many possibilities for undergraduate tracks that are not known before the freshman year, it is highly possible that a student uncovers a new path. The second year may coincide with a leave of absence for humanitarian service. Students who are taking leaves submit a leave of absence form and a Scholarship/Fellowship hold form. These can be found at www.usu.edu/registrar. These forms allow the university to track the departure and return of students and be proactive about ensuring that momentum is not lost. Research Fellows would be wise to develop a draft of the schedule of courses for the return semester and a plan for reintegrating into the Fellowship experience that can be shared with the college associate dean, honors director, and the associate vice president for research. Fellows who take a leave of absence must consult the Undergraduate Research Fellows director upon return to reinstate their fellowships.
The second year is the first opportunity students have to apply for the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, which is designated for students in science, math, technology, and engineering and offers $7,500 per year. The Udall Scholarship is yet another possibility, and it is set aside for students who have interest in the environment. In the second year of Honors, students enroll in English 2010 (honors version), which features an introduction to ethics of research. A scholarship prep class (Honors 3900), a 1-credit course, helps students prepare applications for the Goldwater and other competitions.
In general, the upper division years should see the Fellow solidly engaged in research, scholarship, or creative activity, leading to a product appropriate to the field of study. This also involves dissemination of the project, which can be at a number of venues: Student Showcase, Research on Capitol Hill, the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, Posters on the Hill in Washington, DC, arts exhibition or performance. Also consider Discover, an online undergraduate research journal. Study abroad is also an important part of a student’s development. Likewise, internships may be appropriate.
Students who will graduate with University and/or Department Honors generally will engage in Honors contracts to complete their Department Honors requirements. These individualized contracts offer students insights into possible faculty mentors and may be structured as such. (The Honors “thesis” may be a written work, a design project, a fine arts project, or another genre appropriate to the discipline.) The Helen B. and Lawrence O. Cannon Awards are given to students with outstanding Honors Thesis proposals. The dissemination of the project may occur at one of the venues mentioned in the preceding paragraph.
Having a solid research, scholarly, or artistic track record also positions students well for prestigious awards such as the Rhodes or Marshall that offers graduate education at Oxford or another United Kingdom institution. The staff in Honors has excellent experience in helping students prepare their applications for these awards. The best applications generally develop over several months’ time as the student investigates these institutions. (UK institutions are on a different time schedule, so some work generally is done in the spring before the application date, as faculty do not return to fall term until October.) NSF Graduate Fellowships are also helpful for finding graduate studies. Several USU students have received these awards, which may be in sciences or social sciences.
This is also the time for investigation of graduate and professional schools. For students seeking employment following the undergraduate career, an internship may be a possibility. Fellows should begin to consider letters of reference, a revised resume, and publications if appropriate. Finding the right “fit” for graduate studies can be difficult, but Fellows who have reviewed the literature in their research area may look at the institutions where the authors are located. To find Utah State University faculty who have attended institutions that are of interest, Fellows can search the online version of the University Catalog that lists their affiliations or do an Internet search.