URCA recruits students for 2019-2020 associate cohort

Senior psychology major Alizeja Gipson, of Romeoville, Illinois (left) discusses the effects of caffeine on minority groups with Senior psychology and sociology major Gabrielle Ellis, of Hazelwood, Missouri (right).

The Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Program’s new research year is right around the corner, and they are diligently searching for students to participate in their 2019-2020 Associate Cohort.  

The Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Program is accepting applications from students to participate in their 2019-2020 Associate Cohort.

URCA is a program here on campus that pairs students with faculty members to conduct research.  According to URCA’s webpage, “The Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URCA) Program at SIUE encourages, supports, and enables students to participate in research and creative activities at the undergraduate level.”

As reported by URCA coordinator Laura Pawlow, there are two different programs that allow students to participate in the program, called URCA associates and assistants.

“URCA associates are a very elite group of only 10 junior-year or senior-year students per year who are selected to complete their own project over the course of a year,” Pawlow said.

According to the URCA webpage, associates are chosen after submitting proposals for their own research ideas and, if chosen, will conduct their research under the supervision of faculty mentors for one academic year.

As stated on URCA’s website, students obtaining positions in the program receive up to $500 to assist with their projects, $400 for travel expenses if their project is chosen to be presented at a conference and an extra $2400 award for the year they are working in the program.  

“Applications are judged based on the importance of the proposed research project, whether the applicant appears to have a solid understanding of the topic and the best means of researching it, if the project is feasible in terms of time and resources needed, and the overall professionalism of the proposal,” Pawlow said.

According to Pawlow, URCA assistants consist of a group of 150-200 students who work with faculty for one semester.  In the assistant program, the research is faculty-led and, in the beginning stages, faculty must apply first. The faculty applications are judged on their research plans and how they will mentor potential students working with them.  

Once the research has been conducted, it can be used in a number of ways, from being presented at conferences to being published in journals. Some students and professors in the program even go on to win awards for their research.  

As stated on the URCA webpage, associates’ projects from the 2018-2019 year were conducted with topics in chemistry, exercise science, biology, nursing, and more. Most of these topics also reflect the majors of the students leading the research.

“The research that URCA students have worked on in the past has culminated in 24 students presented posters or talks during the past four semesters I have been involved in the program. In addition, I have presented the work in three posters and two talks at conferences and have submitted two articles to peer-reviewed journals that are awaiting decisions,” Assistant Professor in the department of chemistry Kevin Tucker, said.  

Although URCA is not well known among the student body, it is beneficial for both students and faculty working in the program.

“URCA is designed to be a win-win opportunity for both faculty and students.  Students get excellent mentorship and hands-on experience in their field and faculty get assistance with their research lines.  In fact, URCA students have served as co-authors on 86 professional publications and over 500 international, national, regional, state and local presentations,” Pawlow said.

Many students in the program finish with a wealth of knowledge that they can take with them into the future.

“Considering going through the grad school process and everything like that, I think it makes a huge difference on resumes and just having the experience on things like that,” senior psychology major Amanda Denhof, of Wheaton, Illinois, said.

Denhof is currently working on a project over the quality of students’ sleep and how it is affected by caffeine.  

Working on research in the URCA program not only benefits the students, but also the professors.

“The greatest benefit to professors working in the program is the access to a structured program that funds a student to work with you on a project for a semester. Many projects don’t have funding to pay students for their work and this is a mechanism to encourage students to take on this additional work through financial reward,” Tucker said.  

URCA allows students to acquire knowledge by working hands-on with professors and take that knowledge with them wherever the future may lead.  

“This May will mark the completion of the 10th year of the URCA program. As we enter our 2nd decade, I hope more students and faculty will consider participating —  I would love if every student would participate in URCA before graduating,” said Pawlow said.

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