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The SOURCE Creates New Opportunities for Undergraduate Research
Bird Library’s Peter Graham Scholarly Commons was filled with an animated collection of students, faculty and administrators last Thursday evening. The standing-room-only crowd gathered for the dedication of Syracuse University’s new Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Engagement, which will be known as The SOURCE.
Kate Hanson, previously the deputy director of the Renée Crown University Honors Program, will direct the office. “Engaging in sustained work that seeks to answer questions, solve problems, contribute to the community, or create something innovative is often one of the most challenging and most rewarding pieces of a student’s college experience,” Hanson said. “The SOURCE will provide a nexus of community, support, resources, and collaboration around undergraduate research and creative work.”
The crowd’s positive energy flowed from years of planning, proposals, vision-sharing and hard work. It culminated in a multifaceted program and dedicated space where undergraduate research and creative exploration can flourish. The University has made a $1 million annual commitment to support this endeavor with resources from the Invest Syracuse initiative—an investment that will bolster Syracuse’s reputation as a student-focused research university.
“I’m so thrilled that this happened in my lifetime!” exclaimed Ramesh Raina, professor and chair of the Department of Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences, who was instrumental in bringing the project to fruition. “Undergraduate research was a game changer for me,” he said, sharing his excitement about the possibilities for current and future students.
Raina’s sentiment was echoed by speakers who shared memories of the powerful impact their own undergraduate research experiences had on their lives and careers. These included Chancellor Kent Syverud and Vice Chancellor and Provost Michele Wheatly. “Creative inquiry and collaboration is what we need in the world today,” said Wheatly, adding, “That’s how you build a Chancellor and a provost!”
“In my junior year of college, I received funding for a research project with roots in a geography course. That experience showed me how to take what I was learning in the classroom into the wider world and set me on a path that led to where I am today,” recalled Jamie Winders, professor and chair of the Department of Geology in the Maxwell School and the College of Arts and Sciences.
“The SOURCE is going to be an amazing place for students to find something that they’re passionate about and fall even more in love with it,” said Student Association President Ghufran Salih. “Students are really going to be able to challenge themselves to grow and thrive from the research they do. The SOURCE will also allow for students from marginalized communities as well as students with limited opportunity to pursue research a platform where they can have this chance to get funding and have a faculty mentor and make this community better. I am so excited for this endeavor, and it has truly been an honor to be a part of.”
A team effort
Cathryn Newton, senior advisor to the Chancellor and provost for faculty engagement, spoke about the profound impact this new initiative will have at Syracuse in creating opportunities and providing resources and guidance for generations of students. “Today,” she said, “we honor these intrepid souls, as well as the dazzling new program that is your work. The SOURCE will be a lasting tribute to your creative vision, your uncommon perseverance, and to that Syracuse moxie that embodies us at our very best.”
Newton led the effort to create The SOURCE, with help from the Student Association, the University Senate Research Committee, the Renée Crown University Honors Program, the Center for Fellowship & Scholarship Advising, and University faculty. Colleagues in the Office of Research, the Provost’s office and a transition team including Barry Wells, special assistant to the Chancellor, and Maura Ivanick led the development of The SOURCE with Newton.
The SOURCE’s focus on undergraduate discovery, innovation, student success, and commitment to diversity and inclusion aligns with many goals of Syracuse University’s Academic Strategic Plan. Student applicants have submitted more than 135 proposals for funding from the program. These applications are being reviewed for summer research grants of $2,800 and academic year project grants of up to $5,000 for research beginning in fall 2019.
Research grants and student mentors
Tiffany Tang and Jinzhi Cai, first-year students in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, submitted a grant proposal to construct an autonomous underwater robot that can support a variety of sensors for measuring water quality.
“It is encouraging to pursue something I am curious and enthusiastic about,” said Jinzhi, a computer engineering major from from Guangzhou, China. “I have a lot of questions that this research gives me a chance to answer and offer solutions, to accomplish a project that has been on my mind since grade school.”
“For me, this opportunity is a chance to see what I can do when handed the wheel,” said Tang, an aerospace engineering major from Cupertino, California. “Having a research project where the objectives are highly influenced by what I want to learn about is self-motivating.”
Myles Morgan, a junior biology major from Marietta, Georgia, who conducts his own research in neuroscience, will serve as a student research mentor for The SOURCE. Morgan cut the ribbon to a new, dedicated space on the library’s second floor where students can connect with mentors like himself who will assist them in their chosen research paths.
Newton pointed out that furniture and walls, while helpful, cannot alone fulfill the mission of this extraordinary venture. “The SOURCE, you see, does not live in an office,” she said. “Its true life is in the disciplined creativity that comes in the quiet of undergraduates working in a sustained way with faculty. It thus lives in the studios, the stage, the labs—in the field, the libraries, the seminar rooms—in our centers abroad and, yes, in the wee hours at the writing desk, when the lights are still on.”