October 27, 2003

Grant program to SIRE student research

By Eric Rangus

A new grant program developed in Emory College will provide up to $2,500 of independent research support to individual undergraduates beginning in the spring.

The application deadline for the first round of Scholarly Inquiry and Research at Emory (SIRE) grants is Tuesday, Oct. 28, and the new pilot project represents the newest opportunity for undergraduates to expand the scope of their education.

"We wanted to give all undergraduate students an opportunity to perform independent research that they may not have been able to do before," said Joanne Brzinski, associate dean for undergraduate education. The SIRE program began taking shape last summer, but Emory College faculty and administrators have been working for several years to create programming that helps students hone their research skills.

Emory College already has several support programs in place for undergraduate research, especially in the sciences where half of all undergraduates participate in research either for course credit or hourly wages. The college’s senior honors program also gives about 140 students each year the opportunity to complete an independent research project.

Places where current programs perhaps have not been fully utilized are in the humanities and social sciences. The SIRE grant is the first part of a wider series of pilot projects designed to give all undergraduates more opportunity to participate in scholarly inquiry and to do so at an earlier point in their college careers.

"It’s important to have a grant for general student work and not just for a specific division or department," Brzinski said. Any student can take advantage of the grants, but Brzinski said it is expected they will most appeal to upperclassmen.

The grants would cover research costs such as books, transportation, faxes and calls, mailings and other related expenses. Work related to an honors thesis or study abroad would be eligible, for instance. Brzinski estimated that about 15 grants would be awarded for Spring 2004, but that number depends on how much money applicants request. The $2,500 per student is a maximum; awards can be smaller if expenses dictate.

In addition to a budget and a detailed description of the planned project, part of the student’s application for the SIRE grant includes a faculty letter of support. The writer of this letter will serve as the student’s faculty mentor and oversee his or her work. As part of their mentoring, faculty could be eligible for up to $500 in research funds of their own related to the project.

During the grant period, SIRE students will be required to meet periodically with other recipients to discuss the progress of their research. At the conclusion of their project, students will present their results at a research symposium organized during Emory Scholars weekend in the spring and Family Weekend in the fall; which symposium students attend will depend on when they received their grant. Copies of their final reports will be posted on a website for exposure to the widest possible audience.

SIRE is the first part of a series of projects that expand assistance to budding undergraduate researchers. Set to begin in the 2004–05 academic year, a second pilot program creates faculty-student research partnerships. By first assisting in the research of a professor, the hope is to train sophomores and juniors (the program’s targeted students) to perform their own independent research down the road.

The scope of the wider undergraduate scholarly inquiry and research project also suggests a structure for faculty oversight of undergraduate research. Plans call for each department to designate one faculty member as undergraduate research director (some divisions and departments already have such a structure, but others do not). Within divisions, these representatives would meet twice a semester to choose college research grant recipients and discuss the general progress of undergraduate scholarly inquiry.

The chairs of each divisional committee would form the college SIRE committee, which would steer the grant program and oversee the symposia. Representatives from other college centers, such as the Center for Science Education, Center for International Programs Abroad and others, also would sit on the SIRE committee so that scholarly inquiry can be coordinated across all the college’s programs. That committee will select the first round of grant recipients, and Brzinski said she hopes to have it in place by mid-November.

One final effort is to better identify current undergraduate research. The result would be the creation of a website within the college’s Department for Undergraduate Education that highlights successful student work.

After one year, the projects will re-evaluated and adjusted if necessary, Brzinski said.