UB Steps Up Its Undergraduate Research

UB Steps Up Its Undergraduate Research

While the words “research” and “scholarship” may sound intimidating to those outside engineering and the sciences, all students and faculty in fact participate in the pursuit of scholarly activities throughout the academic year. This concept of research being associated with interdisciplinary, innovative, and inclusive inquiry is at the heart of UB’s steadfast emergence as a research institution of significant impact in the region and beyond.

To raise awareness – and confidence – among our undergraduate student body that research and scholarship is accessible through all disciplines, the University of Bridgeport recently purchased institutional membership in the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR). Starting today, any UB faculty member, administrator, student, or staff member can join nearly 10,000 colleagues from over 650 colleges and universities across the country as fellow CUR members. And the more who take advantage of the benefits, the more UB will grow its reputation as a hub of inquiry and discovery.

“As an emerging research institution, we not only dispense knowledge, we also create knowledge,” said Tarek M. Sobh, Ph.D., P.E., Senior Vice President for Graduate Studies and Research, who established the Division of Graduate Studies and Research at UB in January 2008 to strengthen the research culture in all schools, colleges, and institutes. The successive appointments since then of Dr. Christine Hempowicz, Director of the Office of Sponsored Research, Dr. Jessica Nelson, Director of Undergraduate Research, and Dr. Ruba Deeb, Director of Biomedical Research speak to UB’s commitment to building the administrative infrastructure needed to sustain this visionary goal.

While research at the undergraduate level has always been infused in the curriculum at UB, Dr. Nelson’s recent charge to take undergraduate scholarship activity to the next level recently led to the Summer Scholars program that ran from May 23-June 16, 2017, from which nine undergraduate scholars emerged. In the exit interview published in the Outcome Report, several students found their perception of research changed by the completion of the program. As one participant described it, “I was always nervous when it came to research. I see now that research is complex, of course, but it’s nothing I can’t do. It’s just another part of a larger picture.”

UB’s Undergraduate Council of Research and Scholarship (UCRS)

That can-do attitude is just what enhanced membership in the CUR will bring to UB, under the guidance of the newly-formed Undergraduate Council of Research and Scholarship (UCRS), which Dr. Nelson leads and which also launches today. Like the nationwide CUR, UB’s Council has a mission “to promote a culture of inquiry by furthering professional development through the advancement of knowledge and production of research.”

Faculty members of UCRS are already translating that mission into anticipated student outcomes, recognizing that the nationwide CUR “provides an extremely valuable set of resources for providing high-impact research pedagogy to our undergraduate students in all programs,” as Dr. Manyul Im, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and UCRS member, frames it. “Our goal is to train students who are able to digest and also produce knowledge through research. CUR is composed of a large and powerful group of peer institutions who share this goal and generously make their pedagogical and assessment practices, as well as their results, available to us.”

Dr. Im believes students should be encouraged to produce rather than merely consume knowledge. In the age of social media when the consumption of information can be habit-forming, he sees CUR as a light that can shine awareness for faculty and students in pursuit of advancing knowledge. Once the production of knowledge becomes an institutional priority at UB, “The University of Bridgeport is positioned to contribute our own successes to CUR in the near future as we implement our undergraduate research plan” on a strategic level, said Dr. Im.

CUR Membership Benefit Highlights

Dr. Nelson sees opportunity at every turn for those who sign up for CUR membership. Benefits include special publications, webinars, toolkits, conference discounts, and mentorship and networking opportunities. Of particular value to faculty is access to bibliographies on integrating research into the curriculum, and to students is unlimited eligibility for Posters on the Hill, a competitive event held annually on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Nelson’s condensed list of CUR benefit highlights include:

For UB:

  • Institutional program support
  • Opportunity to host regional and national conferences/meetings
  • Visibility as a national and global presence as an emerging research institution
  • Building national and global relationships with other research institutions

For Faculty:

  • Funding opportunities
  • National and global networking
  • Free resources for implementing research at the UG level
  • CUR list-serv
  • CUR teaching and mentorship awards

For Students:

  • Research and travel grants
  • Graduate school resources
  • UG research conferences
  • Registry of UG researchers
  • Research opportunities portal

Undergraduate Research: A Multi- and Inter-disciplinary Endeavor

In addition, for professors outside the traditional sciences like Dr. Carrie Picardi of the Ernest C. Trefz School of Business, an enhanced focus on research goes far beyond scholarship activities.

“We live in a world inundated with information, data, facts, and claims. Emerging generations need strong skills in critical thinking, scientific inquiry, examining a trend or an issue, and formulating a hypothesis or a question from which to develop a study,” said Dr. Picardi, Assistant Professor of Management and Chair of Human Resources and Leadership Program. “We need inquisitive, innovative, active minds to challenge claims and findings, to have an evidence-based practice for exploring topics of relevance in all areas of society. As educators, it is our responsibility to facilitate this exploration for the students and encourage them, in and out of the classroom, to ask questions, break new ground, identify patterns and trends — and understand how and why it all matters in their respective fields of interests and in the wider world.”

Dr. David Oberleitner, Chair of the Department of Psychology and a faculty mentor in the inaugural Summer Scholars Program, concurs. Recalling his own research in psychology when he was an undergraduate himself, Dr. Oberleitner believes that research experience sets graduates apart in their field and in gaining admittance in master’s and doctorate programs.

“Had I not been mentored in research during my time as an undergrad I really do not think I would have the fortune to be a faculty member at UB today!” shared Dr. Oberleitner. “Being able to give back and now help undergrads at UB get their first hands-on research exposure is what makes the new initiatives at UB so exciting to me. The CUR conference we attended in the spring helped us solidify our vision of what we want to see undergraduate research at UB to look like, and helped us see how we can engage undergraduates in research at many different levels — from in the classroom, to assisting us with projects, to developing their own projects. I also think the UCRS at UB will help raise awareness of how much is already being done!”

UB as an Emerging Research Institution

Inroads toward raising awareness of the far-ranging research initiatives taking place at UB gained momentum when the annual Faculty Research Day (FRD) was launched in 2011. According to Dr. Hempowicz who heads the Office of Sponsored Research, FRD was a deliberate reflection of the diversity of research being conducted across campus. “We went through a laborious task of making sure the judging rubric for the student posters were inclusive of that diversity, because one size does not fit all when it comes to research. Every year we take a careful look at what research looks like in each discipline, because it’s not about making a judgment as much as it is about fostering research as it’s meant to be in that particular discipline.”

Likewise, UB Breakthroughs, the research magazine that Dr. Hempowicz edits, is a deliberate mix of stories that draw attention to research “breakthroughs” occurring across all schools.

Dr. Sobh credits the explosion of research and scholarship activities across campus over the past ten years to an intentional diversification of research funding venues led by the Graduate Studies and Research Division. CUR membership, in fact, is paid for by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) five-year grant first awarded in 2016.

The next ten years that will lead to the University of Bridgeport’s Centennial Anniversary will be characterized by even greater diversity and collegiality.

“It’s not far-fetched to think that research clusters, laboratories, and/or studios will be built upon a theme rather than an academic discipline to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration,” foresees Dr. Sobh. “Our perception of the next step in the evolution of research at UB would be to build on the exponential successes that we thus enjoyed and to work toward applied, thematic-based research tackling real problems that impact humanity and make a difference in the world we live in. These kinds of research and development activities would not only be helpful in creating new knowledge and solving real problems for the real world, but would also be critical for the eminent training of a workforce for which UB graduates are uniquely qualified to excel.”

With the awareness that a high percentage of the jobs that our graduates will undertake in the next 10-15 years do not yet have job titles (just like 10-15 years ago no one had ever heard of a “social media marketer” or “autonomous car engineer”), Dr. Sobh believes in preparing students to be able to learn on their own so they can acquire whatever skills are necessary as the ever-evolving workforce unfolds. In addition, he believes that UB’s mission will be strengthened as it continues on its path to being the foremost “creative, innovative, and professional university in the state of Connecticut, and a New England regional center of multidisciplinary excellence.”

As undergraduate research and scholarship at UB takes off over the next decade, we cannot predict the knowledge we will uncover, the ways we will learn to work and engage with each other, or the impact we will have in the greater Bridgeport community and the world beyond. We can, however, sign up for CUR membership today and see where it will lead us!

Sign Up for CUR Membership Today!

The University of Bridgeport is an enhanced member of the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR), and invites all faculty, staff, and students at UB to sign up for free individual membership. Individual membership is optional, it is not automatic. To become an individual member of CUR:

  1. Go to cur.org
  2. Click on the green “Membership” tab next to “About CUR”
  3. Click on “Become a Member” and select “Individual Membership”
  4. Fill out the identifying information. When you select the University of Bridgeport as your school, a note will appear that says UB is an Enhanced member and to confirm by pressing OK
  5. Continue to complete the form

For more on CUR Enhanced Individual Membership Benefits, click here >