Undergraduate Academic Affairs

May 9, 2023

Undergraduates at the intersections of research: from blueprints to breakthroughs and visual arts to virtual reality

Danielle Marie Holland

On May 19, over 1,000 undergraduates will present their research and scholarship to the public at the 26th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium. Celebrating scholarship and cutting-edge research of undergraduate researchers from all academic disciplines, the Symposium brings together students, faculty members and the greater community to engage with a diverse showcase of research and academic achievement at a signature event for the University of Washington.

26th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium details

May 19, 2023 // 11 a.m.–5 p.m.

Mary Gates Hall, Allen Library Research Commons, Meany Hall Studio Theatre

Free and open to the public

Full schedule and proceedings


Student researchers will present a wide range of projects spanning STEM disciplines, social sciences, and the performing and visual arts. Guests will have the opportunity to attend poster sessions, performances, a visual arts and design showcase, and oral presentations. Topics will range from “School Lunch with a Side of Stigma: Policy Impacts on Social Stigma and Student Meal Participation,” “Understanding the Characteristics and Variability of the Most Extreme Black Hole Outflows” to “Forking a Sketch: How the OpenProcessing Community Uses Remixing to Collect, Annotate, Tune and Extend Creative Code” as undergraduates address real-world problems and advance innovative solutions.

Student researcher and neuroscience major Shannon Hong, ‘23, reflected on how research has expanded her academic worldview. Working with a mentor allowed her to dive into the intersections of all her interests from neuroscience to healthcare and technology.

Photo of Shannon Hong

Student researcher and neuroscience major Shannon Hong

“It was a valuable experience to present my own research and to learn about the work my peers are doing,” Hong shared of past Symposia. “The Symposium showed me that students can be at the forefront of change.”

Katharine Liang, ‘07, acting instructor at the UW Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, shared the impact undergraduate research has had on her academic and professional career, “Getting the experience of a standard professional research format presentation at the Symposium, the poster session, the talk — it was really valuable.” She cites her time as an undergrad with the Undergraduate Research Program as having given her “a jumpstart on my research experience.”

“Getting to witness the impact undergraduate research has on students’ educational experiences and the contributions students make to their respective fields is truly powerful,” shared Ed Taylor, vice provost and dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs. Speaking to the depth of their academic experience, Taylor noted, “Research offers our undergraduates the opportunity to apply their learning to address society’s biggest challenges.”

Photo of the Undergraduate Research Symposium poster presentations

The Undergraduate Research Symposium takes over every available space in Mary Gates Hall.

A growing enterprise

The growth of undergraduate involvement in research at the UW over the years cannot be downplayed. Symposium presenters represent just a slice of the students who participate in research across the three campuses. In 2021-22, more than 7,000 undergraduates spent 1,286,468 hours engaged in research. These undergraduates are bringing a wealth of experiences and incredibly diverse world views into the labs, said Tom Daniel, president and CEO of Washington Research Foundation and professor emeritus of neuroscience at the UW.  “The science they do with us advances the role of universities in the development of technology and discovery for the public good,” he shared, citing why the public should both know, and care, about the role of undergraduates in research.

“The UW is known nationally as one of the best undergraduate research shops there is,” said Iain Crawford, former director of Undergraduate Research at the University of Delaware and past president of the Council of Undergraduate Research.

He attributes this reputation to colleague Janice DeCosmo, associate vice provost for Undergraduate Research and the first director of the Undergraduate Research Program at the UW.

Photo of Janice DeCosmo

Janice DeCosmo, associate vice provost and associate dean of Undergraduate Academic AffairsPhoto by Bryan Nakata

DeCosmo has been pivotal to the growth of undergraduate research and the Symposium. Since it began, the Symposium has grown from 80 student presenters to more than 1,000 undergraduate presenters from all UW campuses, as well as local community and regional colleges.

“It’s a tribute to what she’s built over more than a quarter of a century — the UW has a stellar reputation as a deeply established, comprehensive undergraduate research program that reaches across an entire R1 university and has had enormous impact on huge numbers of students,” Crawford said. DeCosmo has facilitated transformative research opportunities for thousands of UW students over the years, expanding impact far beyond the walls of Mary Gates Hall and out into our society at large.

DeCosmo maintained the focus over the Symposium’s 26-year evolution on the student experience, centering the event to highlight students. “We’re able to celebrate the amazing work that students do at Symposium, which showcases their contributions to the UW’s scholarly and creative work in all fields,” DeCosmo said.

“One of the first things Janice told me about the Symposium when I started as director, was that the Symposium belongs to the entire University,” shared Sophie Pierszalowski, ‘10, director of the Undergraduate Research Program since 2021. “Janice created a vision for this event … she elevated an important awareness that undergraduates are integral to the UW’s research ecosystem — they propel the UW’s research excellence in really important ways by bringing passion, curiosity, energy, and new and diverse ways of thinking to our research teams. The Undergraduate Research Symposium takes this idea and puts it in the spotlight.”

Students and alumni find not only community within the Undergraduate Research Program, but they have profound and transformative experiences as well. “I’d always been aware that research spaces weren’t always designed for students like me, students whose identities are marginalized in research,” shared Hong. “As an undergraduate research leader [with the Undergraduate Research Program] I have helped to eliminate the perception that only certain types of students can engage in research, by sharing my journey and through mentoring my peers,” she continued.

The Symposium offers community, discovery and belonging for undergraduate students, and a pool of inspiration for future undergraduate researchers. “Not only is it an opportunity to see what these incredible students and their mentors have made possible,” Pierszalowski shared, “It’s a space for us to come together to celebrate undergraduates and bear witness to their growth and learning.”