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Nebraska Goes Big

UCARE: Success for student research; notoriety for UNL

By Kelly Bartling, University Communications

UCARE by the numbers

  • More than 3,000 undergraduates have participated since 2000.
  • More than 80% of UCARE students have gone on to seek graduate or doctoral degrees
  • 95% of students who have earned major nationally competitive scholarships (Fulbright, Truman, Goldwater) since 2000 have been UCARE students. UNL had a record-number nine student Fulbrights in 2011.
  • More than 800 faculty representing 70-plus UNL departments have participated in UCARE.
  • Of the 100 faculty that participated in the first year, as many as 40 have participated in all 10 years of the program.
  • Learn more about UCARE at www.unl.edu/ucare

A program began more than a decade ago has led to a fundamental shift in research opportunities for undergraduates at UNL - and earned the attention of other universities across the nation.

Since enlisting the first 100 students in 2000, the Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experiences program has offered hands-on research experiences to more than 3,000 UNL students. UCARE is modeled after similar programs at other major research universities -- but UNL's UCARE is unique, offering two years of student assistance where many other university programs are a single year or a summer.

In the first year of UCARE, the student is trained and works on the faculty's research project. In the second year, students pursue their own research project linked to the faculty member's research or creative activity. For both years the student receives a stipend – like having a part-time job – with funding through UNL's pouring rights contract with Pepsi.

"Our program is also interesting to other universities, including those in the Big Ten, because of the number of students we have in the program and the amount of funding we provide. We have a very favorable reputation in the Big Ten for our undergraduate research." - Laura Damuth, Director of Undergraduate Research.

Damuth and UNL faculty know the importance of involving undergraduates in faculty mentored research early in their careers as freshmen and sophomores. It leads to big payoffs for students, including going on to graduate school and earning nationally competitive fellowships and scholarships like the Fulbright, Goldwater and Truman scholarships. The numbers of UNL students successful in those competitions continues to rise.

UNL's commitment to undergraduate research is also impressive when compared to other universities because it shows a deep institutional commitment to research and teaching.

UCARE student lands sweet research project

By Christine Scalora, Undergraduate Studies

Han-do

Han Do

Imagine eating freshly picked, Nebraska-grown strawberries — in the middle of winter.

Han Do, a first-year UCARE student, worked on a spring project that could help Nebraskans grow strawberries in winter greenhouses. The junior horticulture major worked with Agronomy and Horticulture professor Ellen Paparozzi and a group researching which strawberries can be grown for commercial production on capillary mats.

Capillary mats water plants using capillary action -- water drawn through the fibers of the mat into the soil. Do and Paparozzi were part of a group of 11 people from several departments at UNL working on this project. The group grew 13 different types of strawberries in a greenhouse on East Campus to determine which types of plants could be used for commercial greenhouse production.

"Strawberries have not been grown previously on capillary mats," Paparozzi said. Capillary mats are an old technology that has become a sustainable alternative to other types of irrigation, she said. But the technology in the greenhouse is state-of-the-art. A clock automatically waters the plants and a webcam monitors the strawberries' progress. The goal of the project is to find the best strawberries to be marketed by private growers. Sustainability and low cost are part of the group's focus.

"It's been a whole new experience for me because I didn't know things like this existed," Do said. Do recorded data on the strawberry plants: the weight and color of the strawberries and how many strawberries each plant produced.

Even though she's new to undergraduate research, the experience has had a profound impact on Do's academic goals.

"When I got to college I was not very (excited) about my education, but being in UCARE and seeing what more there is after college or with research, really motivated me to do better and to be a better student," Do said.

Now, she wants to go to grad school.

Paparozzi, the professor, has participated in the UCARE program since it began and said that working with students is the best use of her time.

"It's the ultimate hands-on opportunity," she said.