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U of U’s Summer Research Opportunity Program Offers Much More Than Research

August 5, 2002 — This week 23-year-old Lupe Figueroa, a senior in Spanish and Human Communications at California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB), will finish up eight weeks of graduate school-level research at the University of Utah. She is one of 23 students completing this year’s Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP), sponsored campus-wide by the U’s Graduate School.

The SROP provides first generation, economically disadvantaged and underrepresented undergraduate students, from throughout the United States and its territories, the opportunity to perform research under the guidance of faculty in the Colleges of Business, Education, Engineering, Humanities, Medicine, Mines and Earth Sciences, Science, Pharmacy and Social and Behavioral Science. The project also allows the students, mostly college juniors and seniors, the chance to see what graduate school is all about.

For instance, as an expansion on her CSUMB senior project, Figueroa chose to research factors that affect Latinas’ scholastic success. She found that successful Latina students have had formal and informal mentors-teachers and family members. However, she says, ” The most beneficial part of the experience has been working with my faculty mentor, Dr. Octavio Villalpando, in the Department of Educational Policy and Leadership, and receiving support from my graduate student mentor.” Figueroa learned about the program from CSUMB classmates who are former University SROP participants.

While the SROP-or programs very similar to it-are becoming more common nationwide, the social integration element at the University is not. “We have a very strong networking component,” notes Karen Kwan, University SROP director. “We have found that the relationships the students form and maintain are as important to the success in and pleasure from their careers as the research itself.

“For the U, the SROP is a great recruitment tool. Participants witness solid research being conducted in quality programs. And, for me personally, there’s no greater satisfaction than seeing a student succeed,” Kwan says.

This summer, Paul White, University associate professor of psychology and ethnic studies, has served as a mentor to two of the nine students in the Psychology Department’s SROP. The U’s Psychology Department, Office of Diversity, the College of Social and Behavioral Science and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) sponsor this program.

“The psychology SROP includes a professional development seminar, during which the students learn how to research graduate schools, additional degrees and careers. They learn about writing personal statements, taking the GRE (the admissions test for graduate school) and joining professional organizations,” White says. “We discuss what it’s like to be an underrepresented student in academia and in other settings.”

According to White, psychology SROP students are expected to complete 20 to 30 hours of rigorous research per week; record their findings (using American Psychological Association style); participate in a poster exhibition; and give an oral presentation on their studies, an experience similar to presenting research at a professional conference. “The whole experience is valuable in helping them determine whether they want to go on to graduate school,” says White.

SROP participants, which range in age from 19 to 27, receive a stipend of $2,200 and free room, board and travel to and from the University. Students are eligible to receive up to six hours of academic credit. “And, of course, we expose them to the local culture-the Utah Arts Festival, hiking at Sundance and attending Starzz and Stingers games,” White adds.

For most students, the SROP experience only reaffirms their desire to attend graduate school. “Of the 30 students who have attended the psychology’s SROP program over the past three years, 23 of them are or will be enrolled this fall in graduate programs, with another six who are completing their undergraduate degrees or who are working and about to apply to graduate schools,” White notes.

Oral SROP project presentations, open to the public, will be held Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 6 and 7, from 9 a.m. until 12 noon in the Olpin Union Theatre and in the School of Medicine’s Cartwright Room on Wednesday, Aug. 7, from 2:30 until 4:30 p.m. A poster session, displaying the SROP projects, will be held Thursday, Aug. 8, from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. in the second floor foyer of the University Park Building. For more information on the SROP, contact the Graduate School at 801-581-7642.