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Promoting Undergraduate Research at Penn

by Lawrence B. Friedman

The opportunity to engage in scholarly research distinguishes Penn's undergraduate experience from that provided by many other institutions. Research provides Penn students with the chance to learn about the creation of knowledge as well as to delve more deeply into their chosen field, and thereby become collaborators in the search for knowledge.

In order to encourage, promote, and support increased involvement by Penn undergraduates in research and scholarly experiences, the University, through the 21st Century Project for Undergraduate Education, has established the Undergraduate Research Resource Center. Presently housed in Room 204 Houston Hall, and open since September, the Center provides support systems for students in all of Penn's undergraduate schools, serves as a University-wide communication center for undergraduate research activities, sponsors a variety of activities which encourage, publicize and celebrate undergraduate involvement in creative activities, and helps build a community of undergraduate scholars at Penn. In this initial year of operation the Center is being directed by the author, with the assistance of two graduate students, Cati Coe (Folklore and Folklife) and Melanie Chang (Anthropology). Several undergraduates, each working a few hours a week on various Center programs and activities, also staff the Center. Oversight of the Center is provided by a faculty committee comprised of representatives of all four undergraduate colleges.

Support Systems for Undergraduate Research: The Undergraduate Research Resource Center supports undergraduate research in providing general advising on research, scholarship and the creative process;

  • providing a variety of mechanisms for undergraduates to learn about faculty research interests;
  • developing ways to encourage undergraduates to participate in research and scholarly activities, with special attention to creating opportunities for work-study students, and encouraging their participation;
  • serving as a broker for undergraduates and faculty, encouraging faculty to provide opportunities for undergraduates to do research under their direction and matching students with appropriate interests to those opportunities;
  • compiling and making available to undergraduates information on conferences, internships, summer research opportunities at other institutions, and other activities related to research and scholarship;
  • assisting undergraduates in the preparation of proposals and grant applications for funding support through Penn, or from external institutions and agencies;
  •  establishing mechanisms to assist undergraduate researchers with computer procedures and techniques for statistical analysis, graphical display; or illustration of data, and with other technology that may become available; and
  • providing support for departmental undergraduate research activities such as preparation of poster displays, sponsoring undergraduate-focused research symposia, or development of undergraduate research experience courses.

Coordination of Cross-School Programs: One of the goals of the 21st Century Project is to encourage and expand cross-school programs and activities. As an entity with University-wide focus, the Center hopes to play a special role in promoting and coordinating such activities. Examples include undergraduate research exhibits at events such as the Academic Fair, research-centered community service opportunities, and activities which involve cross-school and/or inter-generational (undergraduates, graduate students, post-doctoral fellows) teams of students, such as the University Scholars Program and the Benjamin Franklin Scholars Program.

Coordination of Penn Summer Research Activities: Numerous opportunities exist for students to do research during the summer months at Penn. Often, however, there is little coordination of effort between schools or departments on such programs and, consequently, opportunities for sharing information and experiences among students, or for promoting a research-rich culture, are lost. The Undergraduate Research Resource Center plans to serve in a coordinative role for summer undergraduate research at Penn, publicizing programs and opportunities, assisting with the placement of students, assisting with housing arrangements, and organizing campus-wide seminars and social activities for summer undergraduate researchers.

Academic Year Workshop Program: The Center will encourage and assist with the coordination of a robust academic year workshop program designed to highlight both research and scholarly activity being conducted by undergraduates, and topics of special interest to undergraduate researchers. Several workshops have been sponsored by the Center during the current academic year including "Service Learning Research Opportunities at Penn," "How to Prepare a Research Proposal, and "Research at Penn--What It's All About." The latter workshop was organized and conducted by a group of students which included representatives of all of the undergraduate schools.

Undergraduate Research Directory: Several undergraduates are working with Cati Coe, and in collaboration with Cheryl Shipman and Linda Wiedmann of the Ben Franklin Scholars/General Honors Program, to revise, expand, and make searchable the Undergraduate Research Directory. Available now both in hard copy (BFS/GH Office, Logan 190) and online,, the directory contains about 350 entries describing faculty research and specific opportunities for undergraduate participation. Goals for this year are to ex-pand the directory to about 500 entries and to make the electronic version searchable by, for example, faculty name, department, and keyword.

Center Web Site: Established this past Fall, the Center's Web Site now contains links to a number of on-campus, research-oriented web pages, as well as to helpful off-campus sites such as those sponsored by the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, and the Council for Undergraduate Research. Currently, the Web Site is being developed further to include a calendar of undergraduate research-oriented activities, listings of summer research opportunities for undergraduates, and links to undergraduate research sites at other colleges and universities.

Undergraduate Research Symposium: On April 17th, the Center will sponsor a University-wide Undergraduate Research Symposium. The Symposium, to be held in the Penn Tower Hotel, will highlight the research of individual undergraduates, and will feature poster presentations as well as papers presented by student researchers. Winners of various undergraduate research awards and grants, such as the Rose Awards, the Nassau Grants, and the College Research Grants, will be honored at the Symposium. All members of the University community are invited to attend the Symposium and to see, first-hand, results of some of the exciting research being conducted by Penn undergrads.

One of the goals of the 21st Century Project is to provide for all of our undergraduates a creative, scholarly endeavor that involves the making or using of knowledge. The Undergraduate Research Resource Center will facilitate reaching that goal.

Talk About Teaching is in its fourth year as a series co-sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Lindback Society for Distinguished Teaching. Dr. Friedman is associate director for special programs in The College, and teaches chemistry in the College of General Studies.

Return to:Almanac, University of Pennsylvania, March 24, 1998, Volume 44, Number 26