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Impressive Findings

Meet some of the participants in BSU’s Undergraduate Research Program
Story Series
Bridgewater Magazine

While it was great news that in 2019 Bridgewater State University’s Undergraduate Research Program was heralded as one of the best in the United States by the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR), even more impressive are the program’s results, as measured in student and alumni success.

In the following pages, you will meet students, mentors and an alumna who are emblematic of the program’s far-reaching impact. Over the past two decades, thousands of students have gained highly valued experience and skills in critical thinking, problem solving, faculty collaboration and communication, making them outstanding candidates for competitive post-graduation opportunities.

BSU’s Undergraduate Research Program has long been a model for other colleges and universities across the nation. So it was no surprise when it was honored by CUR with the 2019 Campus-Wide Award for Undergraduate Research Accomplishments.

President Clark, Provost Karim Ismaili, Assistant Provost Jenny Shanahan, Adrian Tinsley Program Coordinator Thayaparan Paramanathan and other members of the BSU community were on hand in January in Washington, D.C., to receive the award.

“Undergraduate research aligns with our core values of providing all students with access to high-impact practices,” said President Clark.

Dr. Shanahan, who has overseen the program for the past 10 years, said the recognition from CUR provided incredible validation for all involved, and especially for the goal of inclusiveness.

That, she said, is why the Undergraduate Research Program has been so successful. “Because undergraduate research at BSU was designed and led from its beginnings by faculty in the humanities as well as the sciences, it has developed over the years as a truly disciplinarily diverse program,” Dr. Shanahan said. “It reflects and contributes to the vibrancy of scholarly work across the university and broader world.”

BSU’s Undergraduate Research Program provides resources for both course-based projects that take place during the semester and the more intensive Adrian Tinsley Program, which offers summer research experiences. The program also provides funding for student projects and travel to conferences. All told, approximately 1,800 BSU students each year are involved in undergraduate research, with grant funding, on average, for roughly 350 of these students.

Working with faculty mentors, who are critical to the program’s success, students select a topic, design a project, and plan and execute their research. Their findings are then compiled and highlighted in papers, posters or oral presentations and featured in BSU’s annual Undergraduate Review. Some of the best student papers are published in peer-reviewed academic journals.

It’s a lot of work, but it pays off. At prestigious showcases such as Posters on the Hill, where 60 students are selected each year from across the United States to present their work on Capitol Hill, BSU leads the nation with at least one student making the cut for nine consecutive years through 2019 (this year’s event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic). BSU undergraduate researchers have also earned other awards and present their findings at conferences around the world. Each semester, the Undergraduate Research Program holds symposia on campus, allowing students to share their work with their loved ones and members of the BSU community.

The roots of the program stretch back more than 20 years. That’s when President Emerita Adrian Tinsley challenged five faculty members to create undergraduate research opportunities for students. Professors Kevin Curry, Edward Brush, Peter Saccocia, Ann Brunjes and former history Professor Andrew Harris took up the gauntlet. 

According to Dr. Saccocia, many faculty members were already mentoring student researchers. They were excited when President Tinsley provided them with the resources to develop the critical contours of the new program and the ways in which it would function.

As they brainstormed, these faculty members made sure to include the entire campus. “From the beginning we cast a wide net, inviting all faculty from all disciplines to participate in the creation and development of our program,” Dr. Brunjes said.

As the program grew, in 2006, under President Emeritus Dana Mohler-Faria, the budget was increased significantly and the Office of Undergraduate Research was established. Dr. Lee Torda was appointed founding director.

“Undergraduate research was really moved forward by Lee. She was a tireless advocate for undergraduate research and instrumental in getting legs under the program,” said Dr. Pamela Russell, associate provost for academic and faculty affairs.

National recognition notwithstanding, the work in undergraduate research at BSU continues to grow and expand. The institution will continue to seek out new ways to provide even more opportunities, said Dr. Shanahan.

It’s a shining example of a high-impact practice that pays dividends year after year for all involved, Dr. Brunjes added. “I’m glad to see it continue on the trajectory we set out on 20 years ago,” she said. “The BSU Undergraduate Research Program is a gem. I am thankful for having the opportunity to contribute to it over the last two decades and look forward to more involvement in the decades to come.”

In Their Own Words:

Participants in BSU’s Undergraduate Research Program discuss their projects, their passions and the impact they hope to make.

Meet four faculty mentors:

To put it plainly: Without faculty mentors, BSU wouldn’t have an Undergraduate Research Program. Hundreds of faculty members have mentored students over the 20-year history of the program. They work side-by-side with student researchers throughout the entire process. Mentors are often called upon to be not just advisers, but also friends and, ultimately, collaborators.

We’d like to feature all of BSU’s faculty mentors, but space limitations mean we can highlight just a few. We hope their dedication and devotion to student success will stand in for the selfless work done on behalf of our students by all those faculty mentors who over the years have helped turn BSU’s Undergraduate Research Program into one of the nation’s best.

We asked four of BSU’s busiest mentors how many students they’ve worked with, what it takes to be a good mentor, and what they get out of giving their time and effort on behalf of student research and scholarship.