In its first year alone, UGA’s Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities Assistantship Program has given more than 250 students hands-on experiences in fields ranging from molecular engineering to linguistics.
The CURO Research Assistantship Program was launched in fall 2014 and offers $1,000 stipends for a nonrenewable semester of independent research under the supervision of faculty members across campus. A total of 258 undergraduates from 78 majors participated during the 2014-2015 academic year, and more than 100 currently are taking part. Although the Honors Program coordinates CURO, more than half the assistantship participants were from outside of the program.
“Participation has exceeded our expectations, especially in the interest we are seeing from faculty looking to support undergraduates in the pursuit of original research,” said Martin Rogers, who oversees CURO as associate director of the Honors Program. “I am endlessly encouraged by the passion and dedication that our faculty show to our undergraduate researchers.”
Over the past 15 years, more than 2,000 UGA undergraduate students have participated in CURO courses, which allow students to receive credit hours for their work, and CURO Summer Research Fellowships, which award $3,000 for full-time research work through the summer. The new CURO Research Assistantships add the incentive of a stipend during the academic year.
In its first year, 195 faculty members from 14 schools and colleges worked with undergraduates through the program.
Kevin McCully, a professor of kinesiology in the College of Education and director of the Exercise Muscle Physiology Laboratory, said undergraduate students’ help is a kind of “front line” in his research. With five undergraduate students receiving assistantships last year, his lab conducted tests on new technologies that could be used to help patients dealing with chronic illnesses and disabilities. One student’s inquiry has led to a possible $40,000 grant.
“We have great kids who want to get involved in research; the assistantships are expanding their opportunities,” McCully said. “There is a long list of students who want to do this.”
One such student is Hannah Bossie, who received a CURO Research Assistantship to work in McCully’s lab during fall 2014, just prior to her graduation. Inspired by a boy with a mitochondrial disease who she cared for as a nanny, Bossie had an idea for a research project, and it changed her life’s path.
“Getting to be involved in research for a population I am so passionate about made me do a complete 180-degree turn and decide I wanted to do research forever,” said Bossie, who is pursuing a master’s degree in exercise physiology with McCully as her mentor.
“My undergrad project provided the pilot data for this bigger more comprehensive study, and that entire project would not have been possible without a CURO Assistantship,” Bossie said. “It was a phenomenal experience to have a question and get to play an active part in finding a solution.”
Pamela Whitten, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, said that the success of the CURO Research Assistantship program reflects the growing interest of students in hands-on learning experiences.
“Undergraduate research, service-learning, study abroad and internships are transformative experiences that position students for success after graduation,” Whitten said. “UGA is making more of these opportunities available to students as we implement our experiential learning requirement for fall 2016, and I appreciate the dedication of the many faculty and administrators who are helping take our learning environment to an even higher level.”