URSA isn’t just for science

UAF is a hotbed of student research with 43 percent of undergraduate students completing a research, thesis or honors project for the 2014 – 2015 year, according to the UAF Facts and Figures page. Organizations like Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity (URSA) work toward increasing this percentage.

URSA helps students discover what research they might want to do and get funds for their project. It is staffed by Director Trent Sutton and Coordinator Kate Pendleton.

“There’s a lot of faculty on this campus that are really committed to helping students do research projects or creative projects,” Pendleton said.

The requirements are having an interest in doing research or a project, being a student at UAF and being in good standing. URSA grants are not tied to GPA or major, nor do they require a specific plan of action.

“All you need is an idea and a mentor,” Sutton said. “If you don’t have an idea, we’ll help you figure one out. If you don’t have a mentor, we’ll help you find one.”

One misconception about URSA is that it is only for scientific research. While the College of Natural Science and Mathematics does have the most students involved with URSA, the College of Liberal Arts has the second most making up about 40 percent of URSA students and the College of Mines and Engineering is third.

“We are trying to engage all the students,” Sutton said. “Every discipline is eligible for a project, every student on this campus is eligible for a project.”

Individuals who want to be involved in research or other projects can go to the URSA office at 301 Bunnell, contact Sutton or Pendleton through email or just check out the URSA website. Here Sutton and Pendleton work toward discovering what piques students’ interest, what they should do to explore those interests and who they can work with for their research.

Once they identify what interests the student has and who the student’s mentor will be, the student will write a proposal to fund their project. They can also write a proposal to get funding for travel to conferences to present their work. There are five funding cycles throughout the year.

If students don’t know how to develop a proposal they can visit the URSA office and see examples of previous proposals and get help with any part of the proposal process.

“This is one of the highlights of what [students] do here at UAF,” Sutton said. “It really augments the learning experience for students. It engages them in a way that sitting in a classroom doesn’t do necessarily.”

URSA also does Innovative Technology and Education awards for students or faculty to gain experience through the application of technology.

Students can receive only one project award and one travel award per academic year. This is a new policy with the goal to get more students to be able to receive URSA awards, according to Sutton.

All of the students who receive funding from URSA will do poster presentations during UAF Research Day, which celebrates undergraduate research at UAF.

Every student application is reviewed by four UAF faculty who are a part of the URSA Review Board. The members of the Review Board from all across UAF and any faculty member is eligible to participate.

Every year about 160 students obtain benefit from URSA and there is a trend toward more students using URSA, according to Sutton. Upwards of $300 thousand is given out to students who have a plan to create opportunities to develop, conduct and present undergraduate research. The amount of funds available for research has also been increasing slightly over the years, according to Sutton.

Every year scientists at UAF receive money to conduct research and some of this income goes to funding URSA to support the next generation of researchers.

URSA has been a resource for students since July 1, 2011.

“URSA is open to every student, in any discipline, in any year, at any of the UAF campuses, so rural students are eligible, you don’t have to be an honors student, you don’t have to have straight A’s,” Pendleton said. “You just have to be interesting in tackling a project.”

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