Summer undergraduate research grants increase for 2012

Joseph Diebold

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More than 120 students representing each of Northwestern’s six undergraduate schools were selected for $3,000 University summer undergraduate research grants earlier this month.

“It gives you the opportunity to put your education up on its feet,” said Peter Civetta, University coordinator of undergraduate research grants. “You learn a lot in classes, but you learn in a relatively cleaned-up fashion. That’s not how life works. How do you adapt when crap goes wrong because crap is always going to go wrong?”

Civetta said each one of the 129 students wrote a research proposal with the help of a faculty advisor. The student then presented the proposal to a committee of 22 NU professors from various academic departments. The number of grants is not capped, Civetta said. Unlike school-specific programs, these University-sponsored awards are funded directly by the Office of the Provost.

Civetta said both applications and awards are up 30 to 40 percent in the three years he has been working on undergraduate research. This year, his office focused on increasing its reach outside of traditional areas for research.

“Some departments have kind of a pipeline come through,” he said. “We see tons of psychology and biology projects every year, but often times in the humanities, where research is done individually by scholars, we’re trying to get the word out that this is an option.”

Communication junior Suzanne Hutt, a dance and art history double major, is using the grant to take an interdisciplinary look at the relationship between dance choreographer Merce Cunningham and artist Roy Lichtenstein. Hutt said she agreed the administration could do a better job of promoting the grants to non-science students.

“It still feels like grants for summer research, particularly in the humanities, are very under the radar,” she said. “They could do a better job of publicizing it to students from all fields, going into departments like dance and theatre and making it clear that these are really, really good opportunities.”

Hutt said she will use the eight-week program to get a head start on writing her senior thesis for next year. She will use the grant money primarily for accessing exhibitions and archives.

Weinberg junior Molly Barstow, who will be conducting her research on refugees abroad in Morocco, said the research component of her study abroad trip piqued her interest.

“Before having done the research in Morocco, I’d never really considered research,” she said. “I just assumed I’d try to find an internship. But after having done research, I thought that would be really interesting to me and since Northwestern gives us an incredible opportunity to do our own research, I thought I’d take them up on that.”