New position in Research Division to enhance undergraduate opportunities

BLACKSBURG, Va., April 5, 2005 – Each year, hundreds of undergraduate students are engaged in research and discovery at Virginia Tech thanks to faculty members' initiative in finding resources to support undergraduate research programs and to individual's willingness to guide an interested student.

"A significant percent of faculty members start their research careers as undergraduates, and they want to share that experience," said Brad Fenwick, vice president for research. To enhance and create new opportunities for undergraduates to become more involved in research, the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) is recruiting an undergraduate research coordinator, Fenwick announced.

"There are already many faculty members and a number of programs making undergraduate research a high priority. Our intent is to assist them and provide a central focus to engage undergrads in faculty-mentored research university-wide," Fenwick said.

In the last five years, more than a dozen Virginia Tech faculty members have received National Science Foundation funding for research experiences for undergraduates (REU) programs, covering topics ranging from analytical chemistry to power electronics. Hundreds more faculty members work with undergraduate student researchers one at a time, and a few include several undergraduates in their research groups as part of their regular research programs.

"The undergraduate research coordinator would be a point of contact for students looking for involvement in research and for faculty members looking for students interested in gaining research experience," Fenwick said.

The job descriptions states, "Students will be actively encouraged to discover the excitement of doing research and to explore new ways of learning about the world."

"There is a synergy between a robust education and the research environment that strengthens both. University research allows fresh information to reach the classroom and, at a research university, that knowledge is available years before it reaches textbooks. Undergraduate research experiences are another important way that research supports quality education. Such opportunities are an institutional commitment," Fenwick said.

Vice Provost for Academic Affairs David Ford said, "This initiative links nicely to the recommendations being drafted by the faculty members on the core curriculum steering committee, to provide capstone experiences for undergraduate students, including research, service-learning, and international opportunities."

One of the special aspects of Virginia Tech for undergraduates, that other institutions might not be able to offer undergraduate students, is access to research experiences, he said.

For example, the physics website reports, "To give undergraduate students a sense of the present frontiers, the physics department encourages students to take part in frontline research with the faculty." The department's website presently lists 15 student research projects at

The electrical and computer engineering department also lists their undergraduate students' research - And a group of undergraduate students sponsored by the Pamplin Scholars Program has undertaken to write about other undergraduates' research –

Another venue for learning about undergraduate students' research is the annual Undergraduate Research and Prospective Graduate Student Conference, sponsored by the Center for Academic Enrichment and Excellence and the Office of the Provost, to be held later this month -

The undergraduate research coordinator job description calls for an individual to establish and manage a program to develop research opportunities for undergraduate students, to match interested students with faculty researchers, and assess and improve the quality of the research experiences that are available to undergraduate students.

The individual will establish an advisory group among faculty from each college to help develop an action plan, a business plan, and oversee the conduct of the program, and will work closely with the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and the Vice President for Research to identify students seeking research experiences, with faculty who desire to include undergraduate students in their research, and identify funding opportunities to support this participation.

"Many sponsors, such as the NSF and several private foundations, have an educational aspect as part of their mission. The OVPR will assist faculty in writing grants to take advantage of funding available for undergraduate research.

"We also hope the office can offer fellowship funding, perhaps for summer salaries for the students, to enable faculty members to have undergraduate researchers and scholars," he said.