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Updated 10:00 AM August 14, 2006
 

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Elite national undergrads complete Rackham program

After eight weeks of focused research this summer, Jacquelyn Ackeifi, a senior from Syracuse University, reported that race significantly affects men's assessment of their feminine side, and that older males are more likely to recognize their feminine characteristics. She wants to be a researcher and professor in the social sciences.
Evelyn Stewart sings "Lord, I Just Can't Keep From Crying" with piano accompaniment from Jean Schneider. Stewart, a music education major from Houston Texas, attends Alcorn State University. Her research explored the relationship between the idioms of the African American art song and the spiritual through the compositions of Margaret Bonds. (Photo by Todd McKinney)

Daniel Choe, a junior at San Diego State, studied the special challenges to academic success for student athletes and those with learning disabilities. He's heading for a career in clinical psychology.

These are two of the 49 top undergraduates from around the country who made formal presentations of their research to culminate the University's 2006 Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP) at a final symposium Aug. 3. The program is run by Rackham Graduate School.

Each summer U-M joins with the other member institutions of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), comprising the universities of the Big Ten plus the University of Chicago, to offer outstanding undergraduates underrepresented in their field of study the opportunity to conduct intensive research across a variety of disciplines. The goal is to prepare students for advanced studies in a Ph.D.-granting program.

"The Rackham SROP participants are well qualified and highly competitive undergraduate students," says Diane Thompson, senior associate director for recruitment and retention. "Through the SROP Program, we have 49 prospective graduate students conducting research with our faculty and learning skills that will make them even more competitive for graduate school. We're very proud of them." All of the participating students are from schools other than U-M who faced heavy competition to get into the program, says Thompson. "These students competed with more than 800 applicants who sought one of 50 available slots at Michigan."

From exit interviews Thompson conducted with all of the participants she reports they consistently talked about how impressed they were by the diversity of their fellow participants. This was echoed by Choe. "I've lived all my life on the West Coast and I'd never been to the Midwest," he says. "I had a great time interacting with people from all over and getting a feel for a different part of the country."

Faculty mentors play a key role in the SROP, Thompson says. Ackeifi's primary mentor was Toni Antonucci, Elizabeth M. Douvan Collegiate Professor of Psychology and associate dean for academic programs and initiatives in the Rackham Graduate School. Ackeifi says working with Antonucci was a great privilege. "I learned so much from her and I also got invaluable help from Ashley Evans, my graduate student mentor," she says. Evans also mentored Choe.

John Hagen, senior research scientist and executive officer, Society for Research in Child Development, Center for Human Growth and Development and professor of psychology, mentored Choe.

"It was amazing working with Professor Hagen," says Choe. "Having the opportunity to work one-on-one with him was a highlight of the program for me," he says.

Hagen says Choe developed the hypothesis, re-coded the data and worked out the results. "SROP is a great program to expose students to active research and it's also a good way to test a career in the academy," Hagen says. "The sooner potential graduate students get involved in hands-on activity the better."

One of the mentors and SROP faculty advisors was a 1993 participant in the program. Karen Johnson, visiting assistant professor of music, remembers that it was her first introduction to research. "There's no way to underestimate the value of mentoring, and I am very happy to give back," she says. Johnson's mentee was Evelyn Stewart, a music major from Alcorn State University, who performed two songs as part of her presentation, accompanied by Jean Schneider from the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

One aspect of the SROP program that distinguishes it from those at other CIC member institutions is that the U-M participants are required to give two formal research presentations, one at the CIC annual research conference and one that summarizes their research findings at the end of the program, which is held at Rackham, Thompson says. "Our students felt they had a distinct advantage with the training, skills and resources they develop though SROP, including various aspects of graduate admissions, mentoring and research," she says.

According to the Rackham Web site, SROP was initiated in 1986 by the CIC graduate deans to encourage talented undergraduate students to pursue graduate study, and subsequently, academic careers. Since this program began more than 9,000 students have participated across the 13 institutions that make up the CIC.

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