Academics and Research

Summer research grants offer experience for the future

Have you ever wondered whether Colorado’s craft brewing industry is environmentally sustainable? Senior hospitality major Abreana Bardossas has, and this summer she received funding from the University to complete research on that very topic.

Bardossas is one of 50 undergraduate students who were awarded summer research grants this year to complete research projects in collaboration with other students and University faculty. Research topics came from a wide range of disciplines, including hospitality, political science, emergent digital practices, biology and theater, and they covered a diverse range of subjects — everything from “Unlocking the Record of Climate Change Preserved in a ‘Peatland Archive’” to “The ABCs of Religion, Government and HIV Prevention in Uganda.”

For Bardossas, as for many other students, the project represented an opportunity to pursue her passions.

“My passion for sustainability inspired my pursuit of this topic. The question is, how do we reap the economic benefits of craft beer while minimizing the environmental impact?” says Bardossas, who will write a thesis on her findings during the coming school year. “Colorado breweries have already started to answer this question with the initiatives they are pursuing, and I want to give them a voice by inquiring into why and how they go about being sustainable. But there are also breweries that make the choice not to be sustainable, and I want to know the reasons behind their choices, too.”

Some projects were completed locally, while others included a travel component. Students undertook research in locations all over the world, including Scotland, Uganda, Chile, Ecuador and others.

According to Nancy Lorenzon, director of DU’s Undergraduate Research Center (URC), 85 applications were received for summer funding this year. That’s a 38 percent increase from last year, when the center received 53 applications.

Lorenzon says the increase may be due to the URC’s efforts over the past year to create educational resources for students interested in conducting research, as well as to make more departments across campus aware of the research opportunities.

“In the past we’ve been a funding mechanism, but we haven’t had the educational workshops or really made this push to try to provide more for the students. This past year was the first year that we’ve done that,” Lorenzon says. “We’re trying to make [the URC] more of a center as opposed to just a funding resource.”

In an effort to make the URC more of an educational service, the center has worked with the DU Career Center, Writing Center, Honors Program and Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning to provide workshops on writing proposals, giving research presentations and more.

The URC offers up to $3,500 in funding for summer projects. The money can be used to purchase materials or fund research-related travel. Unlike other grants offered by the URC during the academic year, summer research grants can also be used as a stipend to cover cost of living while students complete their projects.

Many students use their summer research projects as the basis for an undergraduate thesis or culminating project. Senior psychology and sociology major Della Agbeke did her summer research project on personal relationships as affected by adult identity. Her project aimed to identify pattern differences in the ways students, people who go straight into the workforce and people who are both working and in school have romantic relationships over time. She will complete an undergraduate thesis using her research during the coming school year.

Agbeke says she chose to undertake a research project and thesis because it will give her valuable skills to use in the future.

“I plan on going to graduate school in fall 2016 for organizational psychology, and the topics that I am studying currently directly relate to some of the concepts I will be studying in that program and the skills that I will be applying to research that I do in the future,” Agbeke says.

Senior sociology and criminology major Kristen Powell also completed research this summer using a summer research grant. Powell’s project examines the experiences of allies participating in social justice movements and their motivations for supporting a cause that doesn’t directly affect them. This summer, she conducted interviews with participants in the Black Lives Matters movement to understand how people can participate in social justice movements as allies and supporters without unintentionally overshadowing the people they are trying to help. She says her research has helped her define what she wants her future to look like.

“I believe my findings will help shape my own ally experiences, particularly as I seek out careers contributing to civil rights development and racial justice work,” Powell says. “This research has also helped me to pinpoint the type of work I want to be doing. I want to find myself involved in meaningful, community-serving work that contributes to a better society and leaves me passionately, unapologetically engaged.”

As Lorenzon sees it, undergraduate research projects like Powell’s and Agbeke’s are an essential aspect of undergraduate education.

“Research is an important experiential component that can take what students learn in the classroom, in labs and in coursework, and actually apply it. It’s really important for critical-thinking skills, problem solving and writing,” Lorenzon says. “We are extremely lucky to have an undergraduate research center that is well-funded and to have the support of the administration.”





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