Campus News

Undergraduates gain research experience from apprenticeships

Freshman Cleveland Piggott (seated)

UGA’s Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities awarded 32 freshmen and sophomores $2,000 apprenticeships to engage in year-long research projects guided by faculty mentors.

Part of UGA’s Honors Program, CURO offers students opportunities to work in disciplines ranging from journalism and art to international affairs and cellular biology. They also attend a weekly writing-intensive interdisciplinary seminar, focused on the issues, processes and skills related to working in a research environment.

Among the academic enrichment activities, the students participate in service-learning projects that benefit the local community and are exposed to leading scholars from other universities and outside organizations through guest lectures and research symposia.

“The excellent track record of our CURO apprentices, who are making valuable contributions both on and beyond campus, is continually raising the profile of the program,” said David Williams, director of the Honors Program.

“Apprentices are successfully competing for major national scholarships and attending top graduate and professional schools such as Duke Law School and Cornell Medical School.”

Cleveland Piggott, a freshman from Suwanee, knew he wanted to be a part of the Apprentice Program after visiting UGA. He was recognized as a Promising Scholar by CURO under a National Science Foundation grant and invited to CURO’s annual spring symposium, where more than 100 undergraduates presented their research.

“Without the apprenticeship, doing research at such an early stage in my college career would not have crossed my mind,” said Piggott, a psychology and biology major at UGA. “Research helps you grow more responsible and self-driven and makes you a better communicator due to all the demands of your mentors, the class and the project itself.”

Piggott is working in the lab of cellular biologists Marcus Fechheimer and Ruth Furukawa on a project that is very personal to him. He is investigating the formation of Hirano bodies, intracellular structures usually associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease-from which his grandfather suffers.

“A directed research project is the best, most empowering learning experience that an undergraduate student can undertake at UGA,” said Fechheimer, who has mentored undergraduate researchers with Furukawa since the 1980s.

“Cleveland is a bright and thoroughly engaged young student, and we look forward to sharing his discoveries and achievements.”

Vanessa del Valle, a sophomore from Alpharetta, feels the apprentice program is a stepping stone toward a career in pediatric oncology. She notes that her camaraderie with other apprentices along with learning how to balance her class and research commitments have been key to her success in the program.

“I have actually influenced many of my friends to seek out the opportunity of undergraduate research at UGA,” said del Valle, who is studying social neuroscience with social psychology professor Keith Campbell. “They see how excited I am about my work.”

Various research institutes, external grants and special endowments such as the Donald and Louise Hollowell Apprenticeship support the CURO apprentice program.

“The public and private funds and the faculty mentors involved are investing in our youngest students with significant returns on their investments,” said Pamela Kleiber, associate director of the Honors Program.