The University Record, February 20, 1996

UROP program wins award for undergraduate teaching

By Deborah Gilbert
News and Information Services

An innovative U-M program that links 700 first- and second-year undergraduates with 400 junior and senior faculty in research partnerships has received a TIAA-CREF Theodore M. Hesburgh Certificate of Excellence for Faculty Development to Enhance Undergraduate Teaching.

TIAA-CREF created the Hesburgh Award to acknowledge and reward successful, innovative faculty development programs that enhance undergraduate teaching and help inspire the growth of such initiatives at America's colleges and Universities. Theodore M. Hesburgh is president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame and a renowned educator who served on the TIAA and CREF boards.

Founded in 1988, UROP focuses on improving undergraduate education and minority student retention by emphasizing academic excellence and achievement. The program, originally designed for underrepresented minority students, now includes students of all racial, cultural and academic backgrounds.

"UROP builds directly on the research mission of the University and, by design, weaves undergraduate students into this mission early in their academic careers. It also enhances two other University missions--- undergraduate teaching and the creation of a multicultural institution," says President James J. Duderstadt. "Programs like UROP enable faculty to make strong connections between their research and undergraduate teaching, and underscores the fact that undergraduate success and satisfaction at research universities can go hand in hand."

"Although many faculty were initially skeptical of the ability of first- and second-year students to make a contribution to research, the vast majority are pleased and surprised at their students' productivity and intellectual inquiry. Indeed, 91 percent of the faculty continue to mentor new students in the program after their first year," says Sandra R. Gregerman, director of UROP.

UROP has been cited as national model by the U.S. Department of Education, leading to the establishment of similar programs at the University of Georgia, Queens College-State University of New York, and the University of Toronto. Work is under way to begin a program at Boston University.

UROP's success with minority students is based on emerging perspectives about the causes of attrition. "Several studies suggest that the absence of interaction with other members of the academic community---faculty, in particular---is a leading predictor of attrition, and has a negative effect on academic achievement," says Gregerman.

"UROP draws undergraduates into the academic community right from the start. It engages students in a one -on-one intellectual relationship and fosters academic competency---computer literacy, critical thinking, teamwork, and substantive reading and interpretation skills." UROP students also engage in a peer advising program, research workshops and research symposia where they can discuss their work.

The grade point average (G.P.A.) and retention data for the program are compelling. UROP students overall have higher G.P.A.s than non-UROP students.

"Retention rates are similarly impressive," Gregerman says. African American students in UROP had an attrition rate 51 percent lower than those in a matched comparison group (9.2 percent vs. 18.6 percent). The attrition rate for at-risk white and Asian UROP students was 0 percent compared with 12 percent for a matched comparison group of non-UROP students.