LASURI: The Real Deal for Undergraduate Research

If you have ever wondered whether we really mean it when we say UIC offers “Access to Excellence,” look no further than the LASURI program.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Initiative (LASURI) pairs undergraduate students with faculty mentors. From “Idolatry in the French press, 1600-1700” to “Characterizing the role of hlh-3 in ‘core’ neurons that have been implicated in regulating mating behavior in C. elegans males” to “Examining depression as a mediator of the relationship between child sexual abuse and revictimization,” LAS undergrads are engaging in research spanning the entire academic spectrum—and doing so with aplomb.

Rebecca Lind with Kellee Warren

Rebecca Lind (left) with LASURI scholar Kellee Warren (English department) at the 2013 Student Research Forum.

The LASURI program provides a stipend to student participants for a full year, as well as support to the faculty mentors to defray the costs associated with the students’ activities. Besides the LASURI funds provided by the College—in part from generous donors—the undergraduate research initiative extends to the Caterpillar Associates Undergraduate Student Award (CAUSA), the Dorothy Thelander Award from the Departments of French and Francophone Studies and Italian and Hispanic Studies, and the Cheryl Ganz Award from the Department of History.

Since its inception five years ago, the LASURI program has supported more than 150 undergraduate students, each of whom has had a unique and valuable experience. However, even students whose projects weren’t funded can claim an experience uncommon among undergraduates. Upwards of 275 undergraduates have applied for LASURI funding, and the very act of reaching out to potential faculty mentors, as well as the process of completing an application that resembles a research proposal, represent learning experiences which can set even unfunded applicants apart from their peers.

Student researchers and faculty mentors alike have many positive LASURI experiences to share. Students have called it “an amazing opportunity,” “a great experience,” and “awesome!”

Jennifer Tai (biological sciences major, chemistry minor) says that doing research is challenging, but that the challenges provide an opportunity for growth, as well as opportunities to learn “the many methods and different techniques,” to bolster her “patience, curiosity and eagerness,” and to “balance school work with … research and manage my time better.” Tai feels “honored to be able to use experiments in the lab to understand and observe the chemistry behind the building blocks of life.” Ultimately, as she put it, the “privilege to work in a lab … will help me in all of my future endeavors.”

Hugh Vondracek at the SRF

Hugh Vondracek (left) presents his research at the 2013 Student Research Forum.

Hugh Vondracek (political science major, international studies minor) is preparing for a career as a policy analyst in the intelligence community. Writing from Turkey, he said that his “development as a student” and his career goals have been enhanced by “the introduction to advanced research techniques, experience in writing and presentation, and exposure to the publishing process” made available through LASURI. Vondracek, who also noted that the experience provided him with increased confidence, presented his research at a professional conference. A manuscript based on the project has been invited for revision and resubmission after review by a professional journal.

Faculty mentors routinely speak of the unique contributions made by students, noting the high-level work being done and the extent to which even young undergraduates conform to rigorous standards and the highest of expectations. Whether the students are working in a lab, in the field, or in an archive, the faculty mentors expect professionalism—and they get it. Mentors have even compared the LASURI recipients’ work to that of advanced graduate students.

The LASURI experience wraps up with a public presentation of the research project. Understandably, this task is daunting to many students when they begin their work. But by the end of the year, after having worked so intimately on the project, and having been guided so effectively by their mentors, sharing the story of what they did and what they discovered typically becomes much easier than most students could have imagined.

Most LASURI recipients present their work at the Student Research Forum; some have won top honors for these presentations. Some students have presented at national or regional conferences; some have submitted their work for publication in relevant scholarly journals. Some students have been invited to present their work at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Board of Visitors meetings. Whatever the venue, the students have done great work, and are justifiably proud of their performance. They represent the LASURI program, the College and UIC admirably.

The competition to receive a LASURI award is held each spring, for a project to be completed during the subsequent academic year. Applications for the 2014-2015 academic year will be available on January 6, 2014 and due March 3, 2014. To learn more—whether you’re a student who may be interested in gaining hands-on research experience or a faculty member who may be interested in mentoring an undergraduate—please visit us online at lasuri.las.uic.edu, or email lasuri@las.uic.edu.

To contribute to the LAS Undergraduate Student Research Initiative, specify your gift to fund number 336608.

Rebecca Lind is an associate dean of academic affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and an associate professor in the Department of Communication.

Photos by Micki Leventhal