Undergraduate Academic Affairs

May 16, 2022

The community and discovery of undergraduate research celebrated at 25th Undergraduate Research Symposium

Danielle Marie Holland

On Friday, May 20, over 700 undergraduates from all University of Washington campuses, as well as local community and regional colleges, will converge for the 25th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium — celebrating a quarter-century of inspiring student research. This milestone is marked with a return to in-person programming and also includes an option for undergraduates to present online via Zoom.

Decoration only - banner image promoting Undergraduate Research Symposium on May 20, 2022

Join us at the 25th Undergraduate Research Symposium!

Friday, May 20, 2022,
9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

In-person welcome happens in Mary Gates Hall at 11:00 a.m.

Helpful links:

Undergraduate Research Symposium homepage

Find a presenter

Registration recommended

COVID-19 policies

UW News announcement about the Symposium

Bonus content for the 25th Symposium!

Rachel Shi, Levinson Scholar and senior in bioengineering, reflected on the impact of past symposia: “I personally really love the research community at University of Washington.” For her, the Symposium has offered a place of both community and discovery.

“It is really cool to see the diversity of the work all of the students were doing — not everyone is doing STEM research. You can walk around and see social sciences and humanities. Being able to connect these pieces gave me a sense of community. I’ve built a lot of relationships within the program and with other presenters, and we can share what we are doing,” said Shi.

Students find many pathways to their personal engagement with the UW Undergraduate Research Symposium, which remains one of the largest in the country. Francisco Nares, Mary Gates Scholar and senior in Earth and space sciences, arrived at the UW without research experience, as is the case for most undergraduates. Looking for a job when COVID broke out, he managed to get an invite into a lab that was seeking new undergraduates. He checked it out and came to love the project: “Leaf Trait Distributions of Fossil Leaves Across Middle Miocene Warming.” “It completely reevaluated what I was looking to do,” he said.

Photo of Francisco Nares holding an old paleobiology textbook showing a photo from the exact same location of the Trapper Creek, ID site from the 1960s

Undergraduate researcher Francisco Nares holds an old paleobiology textbook showing a photo from the exact same location of the Trapper Creek, ID site from the 1960s.Photo provided by Francisco Nares

Building relationships and new pathways

Photo of Linds

UW junior Lindsay HippePhoto provided by Lindsay Hippe

From setting new trajectories toward research, academics and career, the Symposium fosters an expanded awareness and ownership of students’ education and capabilities. “I can really say it’s given me confidence more than anything. Confidence and knowledge,” said Lindsay Hippe, Mary Gates Scholar and junior studying linguistics and speech and hearing sciences. Hippe’s research and mentor support enabled her to see a place for herself in the Honors Program, which she hadn’t previously envisioned. “It’s also really cool,” she reflects, “to see the things I research play out in my coursework too.”

Overhead in Mary Gates Hall at the 2019 Undergraduate Research Symposium. After two years of online Symposia, the Undergraduate Research Program will host the 2022 Undergraduate Research Symposium in-person, with some Zoom options as well.Photo by David Ryder

The mentor and mentee relationship is a vital aspect of undergraduate research. Over 1,000 faculty members, post-doctorate researchers, research staff and graduate student mentors support undergraduate researchers. This support exists as both circular and collaborative, impacting all participants involved.

“When I think about the importance of research from the mentor point of view, and undergraduate research specifically, I think there’s an enthusiasm and a fearlessness that the students can have,” shared mentor and Mechanical Engineering and Bioengineering Assistant Professor Ayokunle Olanrewaju. “Students engage their projects with a fearlessness that, even while some projects don’t pan out, others do and set entirely new directions for the lab.”

Abigail Heath, senior studying American ethnic studies, reflected on the relationship she has with her mentor, saying, “My mentor definitely has more knowledge than I do within the fields, but it’s almost like bouncing ideas off one another. It’s a very collaborative environment. And that’s something I really appreciate. That’s incredible.”

Sam Burden, Electrical and Computer Engineering assistant professor and research mentor, reflects on having experienced all sides of this collaborative partnership. Burden presented in the Symposium when he was a UW undergraduate, and today, he cites his mentorship as fundamental to his role at the UW. “My job everyday is to come and create an environment and support the people that are the next generation, the ones who are going to make a difference. It is deeply rewarding to learn from them and to be guided by them, about what are the important problems to think about, what are the fair, equitable and appropriate means to work on those problems?”

Photo of Rachel Shi

“I personally really love the research community,” says Rachel Shi, Levinson Scholar and senior in bioengineering.Photo provided by Rachel Shi

Photo of Ayokunle Olanrewaju outdoors

“I think there’s an enthusiasm and a fearlessness that the students can have,” shared Ayokunle Olanrewaju, mentor and Mechanical Engineering and Bioengineering assistant professor.Photo provided by Ayokunle Olanrewaju

Photo of Abigail Heath

“It’s a very collaborative environment. And that’s something I really appreciate,” shares Abigail Heath, senior studying American ethnic studies.Photo provided by Abigail Heath

Photo of Sam Burden

“My job everyday is to come and create an environment and support the people that are the next generation,” says Sam Burden, Electrical and Computer Engineering assistant professor and research mentor.Photo provided by Sam Burden

Learning through collaboration

Beyond the collaborative process, Olanrewaju notes the key role failure plays. “I think failure is an important aspect to understand what is really essential. Failure allows us to know what we do and do not understand. Success doesn’t come if there isn’t a lot of failure to understand what’s actually making the success come out. And maybe there are some things we don’t understand. That’s cool. That’s interesting. That means we have more to search. Part of our role should be unearthing some of these things.”

Photo of Jasmine Alindayu

Jasmine Alindayu, Mary Gates Scholar and junior majoring in philosophyPhoto provided by Jasmine Alindayu

Unearthing can often occur in the most unexpected places. For Jasmine Mae Alindayu, Mary Gates Scholar and junior majoring in philosophy, this happened when participating in the Summer Institute in the Arts and Humanities, an intensive six-weeks of research alongside faculty and other students. She was exploring the breakdown of authoritarian regimes through the creative process and looked directly to her hometown in the Philippines. Studying the relationship between Philippines’ president, Rodrigo Duterte, and the populations, she dove deep into people’s personal stories.

“One of the things I really liked with my mentors is they encouraged us to go much deeper into the personal accounts of citizens and not just look at the statistics,” Alindayu said.

This process allowed Alindayu to not only contribute valuable research to literature and academia, but also to “discover parts of myself and my own family. After doing that research, it made me realize how much I’m actually a part of my family and the times I am an individual.”

Waves of impact

For 25 years, the Symposium has served as a vehicle for students, faculty and the community at large to discuss cutting-edge research and to examine connections between research, education and societal impact. For many, this process has radically restructured how they engage with and see the world. Heath’s research focuses on the nexus between language accessibility and due process; prior to her research, she had a much more pessimistic view of the world. Through her research process she became aware of countless activists and scholars in the field working and making progress largely hidden from public view. Heath credits that understanding as making her “more hopeful in terms of making knowledge more accessible and finding ways to reduce the issues that we are currently fighting against.”

Photo of Janice DeCosmo

Janice DeCosmo, associate vice provost and associate dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs, at the Undergraduate Research Symposium in 2018.Photo by Bryan Nakata

The Undergraduate Research Symposium is organized annually by the Undergraduate Research Program, initially developed by Janice DeCosmo, current associate dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs and associate vice provost for undergraduate research. DeCosmo directed the program for 15 years and reflected back on the first Undergraduate Research Symposium of 70 students: “In the beginning it was seen as a sort of academic conference, and it was more for the presenters to interact with each other and hear each other’s presentations. When I took it on, my goal was really to make it a signature event for the campus. It’s about sharing your ideas with the public, and sharing your work with the public.” The work DeCosmo and countless others have put in through the years have created just that — an epic opportunity for undergraduates to present their research, scholarly and creative work to a wider public audience.

Join students, faculty, staff and the broader UW community as we celebrate 25 years of student research. Engage in conversations surrounding the problems and questions of our times. Gather for innovative research that matters most to you.

Bonus content to celebrate 25 years of the Symposium

Read the UW News article about the 25th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Janice DeCosmo’s top five moments in Symposium history

  1. Seeing a community college student presenter connect with a UW faculty visitor who instantly offered her a position in their lab.
  2. Having one of our Outstanding Mentor Awardees say that the nomination by his students was more important than the “paper of the year” award he just received from colleagues in his field.
  3. Standing in front of the portrait of Mary Gates at 10:55 a.m. on Symposium Friday and seeing people just streaming into the Mary Gates Hall Commons downstairs.
  4. Having the Symposium welcome given by a then-football coach the year that 12 members of Husky football team presented their anthropology research.
  5. Cleaning up after a successful event with joyful and tired staff and students.

Promo video for the 20th Undergraduate Research Symposium

Lupita Tovar: Mapping New Worlds

Mary Gates Endowment 10 year Anniversary Video

This video, created in 2007 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Mary Gates Endowment for Students, includes a small speaking role by then-undergrad and now assistant professor, Sam Burden. Vice Provost and Dean Ed Taylor predicted that Mary Gates Scholars would return to the UW and serve as faculty mentors to the next generation of students.