Undergraduate Academic Affairs

June 26, 2023

Washington Research Foundation awards Undergraduate Research Program $500,000 grant

Danielle Marie Holland

The Washington Research Foundation recently announced a $500,000 grant to the University of Washington’s Undergraduate Research Program, continuing its robust support of the Washington Research Foundation Fellowship for the next five years.

Washington Research Foundation Fellowships champion undergraduate work on creative and sophisticated research projects in biosciences and related fields. These fellowships recognize students who achieve a high level of accomplishment in research, particularly in areas of new technology development. The Foundation has increased the 10 annual fellowship stipends to $8,000, while additionally offering travel support of up to $1,000 per fellow.

“The Washington Research Foundation Fellowship offers incredible opportunities for students to fully engage in cutting-edge research with world-renowned faculty mentors. But another aspect of the research experience that the Undergraduate Research Program and the Foundation agree is fundamental to the students’ experience is fostering a sense of inclusion and belonging in research,” shared Sophie Pierszalowski, director of the Undergraduate Research Program.

Fellowship goals include fostering research independence, promoting career clarification and development, and helping students build confidence and belonging in a research environment. The Undergraduate Research Program refined its own focus on these shared goals this past academic year, amplified by the intimate, informal nature of the Research Café.

Initiated by program manager Allison Perez, Research Café is a monthly event where Fellows and new or potential student researchers get together to talk. Washington Research Foundation Fellows share lessons learned, give guidance and help other undergraduates find their own sense of belonging in research.

“Washington Research Foundation scholars played a huge role here,” said Perez. “They have such extensive research experience and lots of lessons to give. They wanted to make it easier for other students!”

Photo of Vrishabhadev Sathish Kumar

Washington Research Foundation Fellow Vrishabhadev Sathish Kumar, ‘23, connected with other undergraduates to demystify what research is all about.

Washington Research Foundation Fellow Vrishabhadev Sathish Kumar, ‘23, came to the UW not knowing what research really was. Through conversations with experienced student researchers, he learned about research and developed an entirely new academic pathway for himself. Kumar went on to earn a Washington Research Foundation Fellowship, the Mary Gates Research Scholarship and graduate with departmental Honors. He saw the new Research Café as being a pivotal learning ground for new researchers.

“I wanted to show new students that there are ways to gain translatable research skills from many domains,” shared Kumar. “At the café, I was able to talk to undergraduates who were just curious about research as something that they wanted to explore. I was able to show them that their interests and passions were valid and great.” It was here where he could now play the role of mentor and peer to students who will themselves one day apply for the Washington Research Foundation Fellowship.

“Even for the impressive scholars selected for this Fellowship, research spaces can be intimidating. That’s why we have built in more opportunities this year for students to have conversations with each other,” said Pierszalowski. “Students thrive when they have a space to come together to share research stories and successes, normalize failure, process setbacks and laugh about mishaps — all of these conversations help build community and signal to the students that they are not alone in their experiences.”

Photo of Abby Burtner

Abby Burtner credits the Fellowship with finding a community and supporting her decision to pursue a Ph.D. in biochemistry.

“Besides the impact of the financial support of the fellowship on my research, the community of scholars I’ve joined has been the most important part of this scholarship, “ shared Abby Burtner, ‘24, majoring in biochemistry with Honors. “I have been consistently inspired by the other fellows and their visions for their research and their future.”

Burtner has received the Mary Gates Research Scholarship, Washington Research Foundation Fellowship, and Goldwater Scholarship for her undergraduate research at the UW, and said, “Receiving the Fellowship and joining this community increased my confidence in my decision to pursue a Ph.D. and career in biochemistry after graduating from UW.”

One of the emerging goals of the Washington Research Foundation Fellowship is to help the advanced research Fellows incorporate equity, inclusion and justice into their research practices. At Washington Research Foundation gatherings and as the Fellows provide peer-to-peer mentoring at the Research Café, they promote inclusion within the research community by demystifying research for students whose identities remain underrepresented in research spaces, creating an exciting onramp into research for undergraduates. Burtner reflected, “I know that I am learning more about what it means to be a caring and supportive researcher on the human side of science.”

The partnership between the Undergraduate Research Program and the Washington Research Foundation continues their important work supporting the next generation of research leaders. Meher Antia, Ph.D., director of grant programs at the Foundation, shared, “Investing in undergraduate research is one of the best ways we can help to advance science and innovation, and we are excited to see what the future holds for these talented young researchers.”

About the Undergraduate Research Program

The Undergraduate Research Program in the Center for Experiential Learning and Diversity, a UAA program, facilitates research experiences for students in all academic disciplines through advising, initiatives and other resources. Learn more at the Undergraduate Research Program’s website.