Undergraduate Research Program

Symposium 20th anniversary

Celebrating Undergraduate Research

20 years of undergraduate research

When the Undergraduate Research Symposium began in 1998, 70 undergraduates presented. This year, more than 1,200 students are participating in this celebration of undergraduate research, and thousands more engage in research everyday. In fact, four out of five UW undergraduates participate in research, creative work or scholarship during their undergraduate years.

The ripple effect of undergraduate research is far-reaching. It prepares students to pursue research professionally, teaches invaluable skills like persistence, critical thinking and creative problem-solving, inspires interdisciplinary projects, and benefits faculty research.

Snapshots of the Symposium

Excerpt taken from abstract. “The goal of this research was to develop a 3D-printed, elbow-driven orthosis that is inexpensive, adjustable, and helps users to perform two-handed daily tasks.”
— Karley Benoff, mechanical engineering


Taken from her abstract on her piece "entitled public Map<SortedSet, Queue> pieces;" "I have completed a series of 16 multimedia collages inspired by and in reference to Beethoven’s 16 string quartets. My project can be understood as a visual prose – a colloquial yet refined exploration of major themes such as layers of abstraction, data structure, and emotional processing.”
— Casey Grosso, junior, art history

Excerpt taken from abstract. “My main interest lies in exploring concepts of intimacy and vulnerability as it pertains to the body and the psyche. Deeply personal—almost autobiographical—I strive to present a careful consideration of my own sensitivity and fragility in the context of the complexities of relationships and communication. This piece, entitled Hatt, is a shade whose design is informed by the intricate layers of the underside of a mushroom top.”
— Shannon Hobbs, senior, interdisciplinary visual arts

“I never thought about what field research would look like in art history. Traditionally, art historians research in the library and construct an argument based on what they read. It was cool to take the traditional research theory and methods into the real world. For my project, I took over 2,000 images and constructed my own argument.”
— Hannah Lehman, senior, art history, University of Puget Sound


Excerpt taken from abstract. “According to research, polluted air causes the deaths of 5.5 million people every year, with inhalation of fine particles (PM2.5) being the leading cause. Some communities are privileged to have clean and healthy air. Others, especially those who are marginalized, are breathing in chemicals that are causing them to face serious health consequences. The goal of this research is to understand if disadvantaged communities are exposed to higher levels of air pollution over time.”
— Khedir Medina, senior, political science

“Undergraduate research rounds out the students’ experience. It is a really good way for them to mature personally and academically. They become responsible for the material in a new way. Initially they are nervous, but they’re ultimately happy they participated. I see a marked change in their work. They put their heart and souls into the research. It shows in their later work. It’s really good for their personal and academic growth.”
— Barbara Miller, art history professor and research mentor, Western Washington University


Excerpt taken from abstract. "Current approaches to deliver prophylactic drugs against HIV are ineffective for many reasons, including drug leakage, low drug loading, and lack of drug release tunability. To protect against HIV infection, a versatile prophylactic drug delivery platform that offers flexible dosing schedules would be an attractive and empowering option for many women. In the Woodrow Research Group, we have developed a fiber-in-fiber (FIF) drug delivery platform that addresses these requirements."
— Christina Nhan, senior, bioengineering

“I’m from New Mexico and am often asked why I came to UW? The answer is I wanted to be part of the the undergraduate science program. The real world application for science. It’s amazing how the graduate students and faculty dedicate their time. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from my grad student; I’m so grateful!”
— Aquene Reid, junior, bio-engineering

“If you take a lab class at UW, it’s not the same as what you see in the actual lab. In the lab, you have to think through the different steps in the entire process. The results are not what you expect. In class, you get the answers before you start. It takes away the problem-solving aspect.”
— Manjot Singh, sophomore, bio-engineering


"My first research project was when I went to North College. Actually, I went to UW’s fisheries department to use their lab to do this ocean acidification research on clamshells. Being in a scientific, rigorous [research project] gave me more of an understanding that I must also narrow my focus when I undertook this creative research."
— Warren Woo, senior, dance

More than 1,200 students participated in the 20th annual Undergraduate Research Symposium. One student explained, “undergraduate research has introduced to me how discoveries are made and has given me the chance to contribute.”

Students, faculty and alumni reflect on research

"Undergraduates are learning, experimenting, and engaging in new adventures so having them do science is both challenging and fun. When they fit their piece of the puzzle into the bigger picture it is rewarding for them and enriches our research."
— Professor Dee Boersma, biology

"Being able to fully engage for the entire summer was entirely different than juggling the demands of a full course load and participating in research. It was a phenomenal experience."
— Maria Cage, senior, early childhood and family studies

"Undergraduate research helped me decide between research and clinical care. Although I ultimately chose the route of clinical medicine and became a physician, it was just as important for me to learn what other options might be available, and it gave me a solid, hands-on foundation of what constitutes valid research when performing literature searches that may impact patient care."
— Natacha Chough, '01, flight surgeon and aerospace medicine physician at NASA-Johnson Space Center

"The opportunity to engineer and execute a long term research project at an institution such as the University of Washington has been a truly captivating experience comprised of intellectual exploration and personal growth."
— Zack Crotty, senior, community, environment & planning

Advice to other undergraduate researchers: "Never hesitate to ask questions even if you think it is a silly one. Your P.I. and others in the lab were once undergraduate students so they understand your struggle and curiosity."
— Quynh Do, senior, biochemistry and chemistry

"One of the ways collaborating with this ensemble has impacted my undergraduate experience is that it has really helped me learn how other musicians playing vastly different instruments from different musical traditions think, which allows me to collaborate more easily with many different types of musicians and artists, both as a composer and a performer."
— Aidan Gold, senior, applied music and computer science

"The research symposium offers our students, who are constantly confronted with stereotypes that dance is frivolous or irrelevant, opportunity to publicly demonstrate the intellectual rigor required to do original research in dance."
— Associate Professor Juliet McMains, dance program (on left, with her mentee dance student Angel Langley)

"Undergraduate research has greatly harnessed my interpersonal and teamwork skills. It has ignited my curiosity and ambition to learn more about science of the human body."
— Larry Mose, '16, emergency department scribe; future medical student

"Participating in undergraduate research revealed to me the countless ways that scientific discoveries impact people around the world. It was empowering to realize that I could contribute to science as a young undergraduate, and that research professors are normal people with human dreams and aspirations. My UW research experience sparked my passion to pursue a career in science and technology to improve human health worldwide."
— Bennet Ng, '13, Ph.D. Student, UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco

"My life was changed when I was an undergraduate engineering student and a professor encouraged me to try research in his lab. Now as an engineering faculty at UW, my lab hosts ~10 undergraduate researchers. These undergraduates are integral members of our research projects, and it is a joy to watch them grow and develop as scientists with their mentor’s guidance."
— Professor Suzie Pun, bioengineering

"As a Mary Gates Scholar I participated in the first annual UW Undergraduate Research Symposium in 1998. I won the best poster competition for my work on torpor in Rufus hummingbirds. I was fairly shy as an undergraduate, so this achievement boosted my confidence in my presentations skills and paved the way for additional presentation awards as a graduate student."
—Katrina Salvante, '98, research associate, Maternal and Child Health Lab, Simon Fraser University

"As sculpture students in a research university, we are expected to fail. Failure and resilience are required in order to create successful work. Material research and conceptual development are expected, while the final execution of a piece must strive to convey just what the maker intended. My time in 3D4M has allowed me to understand research differently and truly appreciate the knowledge and commitment behind practical and problem solving skills."
— Chloe Sismour, senior, interdisciplinary visual arts

"My research has been informed by my experience as a Quileute tribal member and a queer woman. I am interested in uncovering and analyzing the logics of settler colonialism as they reinforce the erasure of Native lives. By working to include Two-Spirit and LGBTQ individuals, I have worked with my community to make the UW Powwow a welcoming and safe space for all Native peoples."
— Ruby Stacey, senior, community, environment and planning

"Hearing [a patient’s] story and hearing how, hopefully, my bench work could translate over to actually helping people is what got me started in research and started on my path to helping others."
— Jude Tunyi, senior, biochemistry and chemistry

"To offer undergraduate students research opportunities is a life changing experience for them. Being able to work in a team, explore alternatives, and present their work instills a sense of ownership and pride that never goes away."
— Professor Joachim Voss, global health and biobehavioral nursing and health systems

"Need a fresh pair of eyes on a research problem? That is what our undergrad researchers provide – with their lack of fear they will dig into a research project and provide a different perspective that can lead to solving outstanding problems or create new lines of research."
—Professor Robert Winglee, earth and space sciences

On the impact a scholarship can have for research participation: “Before the Mary Gates Scholarship, I mostly contributed to the project, which investigates sea otter diets in Washington, by being a field technician and entering data, which I loved. Receiving the scholarship allowed me the time to delve into the data and analyze it — which gave me a more comprehensive understanding of the study!”
— Amanda Witt, '16, field technician, Laidre Lab, UW

Research in action

Check out this collection of videos featuring our undergraduate researchers and past symposium.

Lupita Tovar: Mapping New Worlds

Making art out of rejection: Miha Sarani paints his heroes

Charting New Terrain: Undergraduate Research in UW History/CHID

Throwback: 2014 UW Undergraduate Research Symposium