College Announces New Opportunities for Student Research

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This  summer the College will be initiating the St. Mary’s Undergraduate Research Fellow (SMURF) program in which roughly eight students will be chosen to work closely with a faculty member of their choice in order to conduct research. The SMURF program will take place from May 21 to July 13, with each recipient receiving a $3,000 stipend for personal use and free room and board on campus for the eight-week duration of the program.

Formerly, the College hosted a similar program, the Program for Research Investigation at St. Mary’s (PRISM), but the funding ran out and the program was forced to cease. During the summer of 2011, members of the faculty took part in a workshop sponsored by both the Council for Undergraduate Research and the Consortium of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, where they were given the idea to bring back a summer research program for the student body.

“The workshop and the initiative [brought forward by faculty] were directed towards enhancing undergraduate research on campus,” said Associate Dean of Faculty Richard Platt. “This program is a major component of that initiative.”

The idea was brought forward to Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Beth Rushing; Assistant Professor of Biology Samantha Elliott; Professor of Biology Jeffrey Byrd; Professor of Psychology Wesley Jordan; Associate Professor of Psychology Aileen Bailey.

“We are really lucky at SMCM to already have a strong, established infrastructure in place for student-faculty collaboration on scholarly and creative projects,” said Elliott. “The summer allows the luxury of concentrating on our scholarly or creative projects without the distractions of other classes or obligations. This allows for more flexibility in what we can do in terms of projects, and provides an immersive experience for the person performing the work.”

The SMURF program is open to all rising juniors and seniors from any discipline, though rising sophomores may be considered if they have completed relevant coursework that has prepared them for such a project.

The projects chosen by the students accepted into the program can consist of answering their own research questions or working on their mentoring faculty member’s current research. The final results of the projects can range from artistic works to science experiments.

“Projects can vary in both scale and product,” said Platt. “Students in any discipline can participate and we plan for the program to be multi-disciplinary in nature.”

The students chosen for the program will attend weekly meetings led by Elliott, relay their research to others through a poster symposium at the end of the summer, and then present it to the St. Mary’s College of Maryland community in the Fall.

This summer’s SMURF program will be funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation through an award that President Joe Urgo has received.

“The Mellon Foundation has a deep interest in helping liberal arts colleges thrive,” said Rushing, “and their support will help us get the program started again. We’ll find other ways to support it after the initial year or two.”

While the budget for the program is still unknown and in the midst of being finalized, Platt said that it should be enough to support the eight separate student projects. Elliott also stated that after this summer’s pilot program is completed, the SMURF program organizers will apply for grant money that may help to “expand and sustain the program in the future.”

Current budget limits for the projects are $1,000 each, while the estimated average budget is $400. Students must discuss and plan the budget for their projects with their faculty mentor.

In order to apply to become a SMURF, students must first reach out to a faculty member that is willing to mentor them for the duration of the project. Working with the faculty member to develop a project plan, the student must then submit a two page, single-spaced description that includes the purpose of the project, their intended methodology, a timeline, and any relevant coursework or experience that has prepared them to undertake the project.

All applications are due by March 9 to SMURF@smcm.edu, with all accepted applicants being notified by March 30.

“I think the types of projects conducted are going to vary,” said Elliott, “depending upon the interests of the students and the disciplines in which they work. Until we see the applications, I’m not sure what will be proposed, but I’m excited about the possibilities.”

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