Indiana State University Newsroom

Students SURF to sail ahead

April 21, 2015

Spending four years as an undergraduate student might give you an idea about your future career, but walking into college with the opportunity to work in the field is better.

That's what Indiana State University's Thomas Steiger, director of the Center for Student Research and Creativity, realized when he attended a conference put on by the Council of Undergraduate Research.

There, the audience was challenged by one of the keynote speakers, a director of undergraduate research at Murray State University, to convert all of their academic scholarships into research fellowships.Intrigued by the idea, Steiger brought it back to Indiana State and presented it to Sarah Wurtz, the university's scholarships director, who then told John Beacon, vice president for enrollment management, marketing and communications, and made the idea a reality. Thus the Sycamore Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) scholarship came into play for the 2014-15 school year.

"This year we were able to fund a cohort [of twelve students] and they had tremendous success," Steiger said.

Students who applied for the fellowship had to meet specific eligibility requirements. Once selected, they were divided into three areas of interested research study including the Center for Genomic Advocacy, the psychology department and physical therapy. Soon after, they began hands-on work alongside their professors and supervisors in their chosen career field.

For those working under Alvaro Gurovich, assistant professor of physical therapy, preparation began a little sooner during the summer launching them into their semester projects. Two of Gurovich's students, Carson Brown, an athletic training major from Terre Haute, and Olivia Harpenau, a nursing major from Clinton, have already found the immense benefits from their fellowship.

Brown examined vein reactivity in students at Terre Haute's Dixie Bee Elementary School to better determine early signs of heart attacks.

"[It was for] Physiological Understanding [or PHUN] Week," he said. "We went there and did fun little experiments with the kids and actually the information we got there, we put into an abstract and submitted to a physiological conference in Boston and I got accepted."

Not only did Brown have the opportunity to travel to Boston last month to present his research data, but he will also be traveling to the National Conference for Undergraduate Research in Spokane, Wash. April 15 - 19 alongside Harpenau.

Working more closely with graduate students, Harpenau's work included researching components that lead to osteoporosis.

"We went to several health fairs and community centers to perform bone scans on elderly women to collect data," Harpenau said.

Compiling her findings into an abstract, she will also present a poster at the conference.

"SURF is an amazing opportunity that allows undergraduate students to work alongside professors, as well as give [them] research experience," Harpenau said. In her opinion, SURF students have an advantage over other undergraduates because "It tends to be unlikely for undergraduate students to participate in research at many schools, so it is [especially] incredible that freshman are blessed with this experience."SURF students are granted a $2,500 semester-long scholarship that essentially awards them for their professional undergraduate work. They are also required to enroll in a special division of University 101 class for new students to set aside time for research.

At least two parents told Steiger their students had decided not to attend Indiana State, but the SURF program changed their minds.

"The evidence is pretty strong in terms of how students benefit from this kind of experiential learning," he said. "It is ... a proven retention tool because it creates such meaningful connections for students and it creates meaningful connections in the academic area. The experience of undergraduate research is transforming for students who do it."

Students who were involved plan to continue their experiential learning in future years. SURF's introduction to Indiana State has proven to be a hopeful and intriguing initiative for freshman students, Steiger said.


Photo: - Indiana State students Shannon Hamilton (left) and LeVisa Evans (right) examine vein reactivity from Dixie Bee Elementary School students during PhUn Week in Fall 2014. (ISU Photo Services)

Photo: - Indiana State students Destini Thomas (left) and Katharyn Majors (right) interact with Dixie Bee students during PhUn Week. (ISU Photo Services)

Contact: Tom Steiger, director of the Center for Student Research and Creativity, or 812-237-3426

Writer: Sadie All, student media relations assistant, or 812-237-3773