The University Record, April 24, 1995
By Mary Jo Frank
The Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program's (UROP) spring symposium featured an eclectic mix of oral presentations, ranging from the effect of the Great Lakes on the region's spring and summer weather to "Readjustment of Gulf War Veteran Women: A Follow-up."
In all, 16 first- and second-year students presented their research to their peers and faculty advisers at UROP's third annual symposium held April 12 at the School of Business Administration. Another 65 students prepared poster presentations explaining projects from a variety of disciplines in the social and natural sciences, humanities, medicine and engineering.
The presenters are among 600 UROP students who have been working one-on-one with faculty members throughout this academic year. UROP students spend an average of six to 10 hours per week on their research. They also attend biweekly seminars, which are organized around such research themes as social science, biomedical science, women and science, humanities, the arts, and engineering.
Students earn one to four hours of academic credit for their research or are paid through Work-Study.
When UROP was launched with 14 students in 1989, it was designed to increase retention and improve the academic performance of underrepresented minority students. Today UROP is open to minority and majority students with a special emphasis on minorities and women in science.
UROP Director Sandra Gregerman says follow-up research shows a 50 percent higher retention rate among African American students who participated in UROP compared with a well-matched control group who did not. "We're also finding that African American students who participate in UROP have significantly higher grade point averages and are taking more courses and more difficult courses earlier in their academic careers," Gregerman notes.
UROP students gain invaluable hands-on research experience and develop critical thinking, problem-solving and analytical skills that are applicable in course work as well as research, she says.
UROP also helps students:
--Identify academic and career interests,
--Develop collaborative, working relationships with U-M faculty members early in their academic careers, and
--Acquire professional experience for future research and career opportunities.
Students and their faculty mentors are enthusiastic about the opportunities UROP offers.
Dana McGee, a first-year student from Detroit, worked with Frank Whitehouse Jr., associate professor of microbiology, on a project called "The Consequences of Changing Your Answers on a Test."
"I loved it because of Professor Whitehouse," McGee says. "He was wonderful. He was a great mentor."
The Cass Technical High School graduate says she also learned from her research that students really do score higher on multiple choice tests if they change an answer after thinking about it, contrary to the popular notion that you should always stick with your first answer.
Whitehouse has mentored one to five UROP students a year since the program began.
"Even in retirement, I would hope to take on students," says Whitehouse, who has two other UROP students, Juli L. Ziegler of Erie and Michael Biersack of Grand Rapids, transcribing the journal of Civil War surgeon Cyrus Bacon Jr. of Niles.
In addition to enjoying working with Whitehouse on the research project, Biersack says, "my peer adviser was very good about contacting speakers to talk to us about a variety of fields at the University and in the Medical School."
Darlene Kassab, a second-year student from Bloomfield Hills, presented the results of her research titled "Elderly Exposed Skin Affected with Bateman's Purpura Shows Lower Level of Collagen."
Kassab looked at the collagen levels of the skin in patients with Bateman's Purpura--a condition characterized by bruising of the skin and considered a sign of aging.
"I really like working in dermatology and with my faculty adviser a lot," says Kassab, who earned four credits for working 12 hours a week.
As a junior, she won't be eligible to participate in UROP, but Kassab plans to continue working with her adviser, Sewon Kang, assistant professor of dermatology, and is considering expanding her research to examine the psychological effects of Bateman's Purpura.
Of the research experience, Kassab says "it's a different way of learning. We always study with books. This is more like the real world."
Supervising six UROP researchers at one time can sometimes be a three-ring circus, admits veteran UROP mentor Katarina T. Borer, professor of kinesiology, but the personal pleasure of showing them something they haven't done before is worth it, she says.
"I find it so delightful to work with young people. For them, it is often their first exposure to research. It is very pleasing to open up new pages of experiences for them.
"You develop a very trusting relationship with the students. They find it is a little like having a family--someone who is willing to explain to them how research works."
UROP is partially funded by grants from the King-Chavez-Parks Initiative and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.