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URAP: Thinking Beyond the Textbook

April 23, 2013
Mary Moses

Mary Moses

It’s amazing what you can learn if you only look close enough.

Take tree cores, for instance.

Senior undergraduate student Mary Moses can tell a lot by examining them.

“I am looking at tree cores and examining their radial growth patterns in order to see how the invasive species Lonicera maackii (Amur honeysuckle) and various climate variables affect certain tree species’ growth rates,” Moses says.

Through the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (URAP), Moses and two other students are conducting forest ecology research at the Nachusa Grasslands, an expanse of 3,100 acres of prairie remnants, restorations, and oak savannas owned by The Nature Conservancy.

The hands-on research and data analysis experience that Moses is gaining directly relate to her goals of becoming a professor and conducting her own research.

Her initial research experience came through the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) summer program, an intensive eight-week session designed to provide in-depth research experiences for undergraduate students. Moses credits the ability to connect with her NIU professors, such as associate professor David Goldblum in the Department of Geography, as key to her success.

David Goldblum

David Goldblum

Goldblum agrees.

“At NIU there are numerous opportunities for undergraduate students to become involved in faculty research.  Students wishing to enhance and broaden their undergraduate education at NIU should embrace these opportunities, much as Mary has done over the past two years.  As was the case for Mary, it frequently starts with a conversation with a graduate student or professor.”

Goldblum was so impressed with Moses’ research skills and intellectual ability that he invited her to continue the research project through a URAP grant he received from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Moses was thrilled to have the opportunity to continue to build her research skills and notes that there were clear differences in – and advantages to – the URAP experience.

“URAP is definitely more of an independent experience that incorporates one-on-one interactions with the research mentor. Furthermore, it encompasses a single project that you get to explore in depth; you have more control over the experiment and research. I have more direct input in the research and have learned to rely on my own knowledge in order to interpret results.”

URAP applications are being accepted through Monday, April 29, for students who wish to participate in the program during the 2013-14 academic year. Funded by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and coordinated by the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning, URAP supports 15-20 students during the fall and spring semesters. The program is open to all registered junior and senior undergraduates in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences who have a GPA of 3.0 or better. Information about participating professors and their projects is available online.

Mary MosesMoses says the fact that she got paid for her research work was an added bonus.

“As a non- traditional student and mother, my finances are different than typical students. I was intimidated about getting involved on campus because I was afraid I wouldn’t have time, along with work, to see my kids. That proved to be the exact opposite, because now I get paid to work in labs and I only need to work part-time on the weekends.”

Moses presented her research at a geography conference last year. She and Goldblum are currently working on a manuscript that will be submitted for publication in a scientific journal.

“I am gaining a lot of skills besides the research part of it, too. I’m learning to think beyond a textbook. I’ve got a better understanding of how to work with others in my field, and I’m expanding my professional network. These experiences will stay with me forever.”

Moses says that this is an excellent resume-builder, as well. She has combined her area of study to include other interests, and she hopes to apply all of them to her future career. Along with her environmental studies major, she is pursuing a minor in geography and a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Certificate. Moses plans to continue her studies in geography in graduate school. She shared the following advice for students who are considering a research experience.

“Be vocal and let your presence in class be known. Besides just being good marketing for yourself, being involved makes the whole college experience so much better. You get to meet people interested in the same things as you and take your education to a higher level.”

by Pamela Roesner