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Faculty Mentors on the URC

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
February 24, 2010

There’s a reason Chris Reardon likes UNH’s Undergraduate Research Conference: it makes sense.

“It’s logical,” says Reardon, an associate professor of political science, and URC faculty mentor since 2004. “I like things that are logical. I like the idea that students get a sense of what it’s like to be an academic. At some point in their lives, they are going to have to convince someone that an idea they have is correct. This is an opportunity to learn the skills they’ll need in the real world.”

Reardon is one of more than 240 faculty mentors who guide students through the process of presenting their scholarly work to an audience during the annual research conference. The URC provides undergraduate and graduate students the chance to showcase their research and creative work before their peers, faculty mentors, and the public. Last year more than 870 students participated.

Faculty mentoring allows students to develop one-on-one relationships with a professor. Surveys of students who have participated in URC often mention faculty support as an important part of their experience.

This year’s conference, UNH’s 11th, takes place April 16 through April 24.

“For me, the URC gives purpose to my courses,” Reardon says. “International affairs dual majors now must collect research materials while doing their mandatory study abroad, which they will use to complete their capstone research paper. URC has been able to transform the study abroad experience into research.”

Reardon says international affairs and political science will likely have more than 100 students presenting at this year’s conference. To him, that means 100 more students who will be that much better prepared for real life.

“Part of what we’re doing here is helping student prepare for the real world; to get jobs, to be successful,” Reardon says. “Here’s an academic step they can take that can help them by learning how to present themselves.”

Peter Masucci’s marketing workshop class gives students that opportunity and more. Students work with real-world companies—from small nonprofits to big corporations—to help them solve a specific problem. They first conduct extensive market research and then design, develop, and actually implement their marketing program recommendations. And, at the end of the semester, they write and present a report detailing what they’ve done.

All that work makes it easy for Masucci to persuade them to participate in URC.

“At that point, they’ve done the hard part,” says Masucci, adjunct professor of marketing for the Whittemore School of Business and Economics. “I tell them, ‘you’re going to do the work anyway, why not celebrate one more time and present it at the URC?’ In doing so, they get to showcase their work. They get to put it on their resume.”

In the early years, fewer than 25 Whittemore School of Business students participated in the URC but interest has increased so much that last year, with 193 undergraduates signed on to present their research, the school had its own daylong symposium.

“I’ve seen it make a difference. I’ve had students come back to me, excited to be able to pull out the URC catalogue—proof they presented at a real academic conference,” says Masucci, who has been a faculty mentor since 2005. “That turns me on educationally. It’s a great source of pride to see them be able to share what they’ve been taught with the broader community.”

Estelle Hrabak has had students presenting at URC for about thirteen years. An associate professor in the department of molecular, cellular and biomedical sciences, she has been on the COLSA planning committee for 10 years.

“It’s a joy to watch the students develop,” she says. “I take pride in seeing them present their research. That’s really what does it for me.”

Since becoming a faculty mentor, Hrabak has sponsored more than 50 students. She says that while UNH has many students involved in actual hands-on research, research isn’t nearly as useful if it isn’t shared.

“Presenting their research at the URC is a culmination of their lab experience. It’s a chance to present the work they're doing to their peers, to other students and faculty,” Hrabak says. “For a lot of students, it’s not only a satisfying wrap up but it can be a real confidence booster.”

One way to look at faculty mentoring is that it’s part of the job description, Hrabak says. But, she adds, it’s more than that.

“I think it’s a way for our students to grow and to see that they are actually making valuable contributions to our research,” she says.

UNH’s Undergraduate Research Conference is one of the largest and most diverse undergraduate research conferences in the country. In addition to the Whittemore School of Business and Economics having its own day, an Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Symposium also has been added as has the Naked Arts—Creativity Exposed, giving students in visual and performing arts disciplines the chance to participate.

For more information on this year’s URC, visit http://www.unh.edu/urc/. Registration is open until March 5.
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