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May 9, 2002

Symposium to draw almost 400 undergraduates

News and Information

A record number of students will be participating in the Fifth Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium from noon to 5 p.m. Friday, May 17 in Mary Gates Hall.

Organizers expect more than 370 students to have an oral presentation or a poster on display. Judging from the responses students have submitted to a brief questionnaire, these presentations culminate what for many has been a truly transformative experience.

“Many students tell us that participating in research has been as valuable as the rest of their education at the University,” says Janice DeCosmo, acting assistant dean for undergraduate education. “That isn’t surprising when you realize that this presentation represents at least one year of work, probably in an area that students have grown to feel deeply about. For an undergraduate, this is the first time they have conducted research, and the depth of their involvement is likely to have a powerful effect on them.”

The symposium this year is about 30 percent larger than last year, largely due to increased participation by students from the social sciences and humanities.

“Very quickly after students begin doing research, they are treated as colleagues by faculty,” DeCosmo says. “This is a huge boost to their confidence. Many of them are seeing their results implemented as quickly as the research is completed. And some are working on issues of great local relevance.”

This year, the symposium will be attended by student-researchers from Caltech, Stanford, WSU and UCLA, who will be presenting their own research. It is expected that UW students will be attending similar symposia at their institutions.

Given the tight budget times, increasing the level of undergraduate participation in research may seem a tall order. DeCosmo points to the absolutely crucial role played by gift money, especially the Mary Gates Endowment. “My hope is that at some point we will be able to take this to the next level and create a fund for undergraduate researchers to present their results at professional conferences. It’s a logical and necessary step.”

Presentations will occur in various rooms throughout Mary Gates Hall from 1:30 to 3 p.m. and 3:15 to 4:45. More details are available at: http://www.washington.edu/research/urp/symp.

The experience of participating in research has been both exhilarating and stressful, judging by the student response to the questionnaire. A senior in women studies and sociology commented, “To do a project which is completely your own is both scary and rewarding. I’m really looking forward to being done and framing every single page to hang on my wall.”