NU students explore academic interests through summer research opportunities

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Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

The Office of Undergraduate Research awarded 211 students a Summer Undergraduate Research Grant this year, which allowed them to pursue research projects they didn’t have the time or money for during the year.

Jessica Ma, Reporter

Communication sophomore Samantha Miheve found inspiration in the ensemble of unique characters in the television show “Parks and Recreation.” This summer, Miheve is screenwriting her own political sitcom, which follows college students navigating local politics. 

Miheve is one of this year’s 211 Summer Undergraduate Research Grant participants. SURG is one way students can invest time and energy into research projects they care about while school is out of session.

Through the Office of Undergraduate Research, SURG students received a $4,000 stipend to cover living expenses as they pursue independent projects for eight weeks. The grant is awarded through an application process that involves a two-page project proposal.

OUR Associate Director Megan Wood said research allows students to deepen explorations of their academic interests. SURG gives students the opportunity to oversee all stages of their research methodology, she said. 

“Foundationally, a lot of research rarely goes according to plan,” Wood said. “The beauty in research is what you learn along the way and how you have to adapt.” 

About half of the awards fund STEM-related projects, and the rest go toward projects in the social sciences, journalism, humanities and performance, Wood said. Research takes on different forms depending on the field, she added. This year’s proposals included an opera adaptation, a genetic diversity measurement and more.  

For Miheve’s project, she plans to write a television series centered around college students running a small-town mayoral campaign. Miheve said she first pitched her television series idea to her Theatre 340: Comedy/Culture class, later developing it into her SURG proposal. 

Frustrated by the current state of politics, Miheve said she wanted to create a television series that features characters in their twenties to whom her generation could relate. 

“There hasn’t been any super recent (political sitcoms) that really speaks to our generation,” Miheve said. “What I want to bring to this is a younger voice, a fresher perspective.”

Weinberg sophomore Kenny Ryu, another SURG recipient, is using game theory to analyze student behavior in the college admissions system. Ryu said his research was inspired by the college admissions process in South Korea, where he attended high school. 

In South Korea, applicants can only apply to three colleges, and admissions are based solely on college entrance exam scores, Ryu said. Because of these limitations, applicants tend to avoid risk and apply for schools where they believe they have a good chance for acceptance, Ryu said. 

Ryu recalled watching his high school friends struggle to decide where to apply for college. He said he hopes his research can lead to policy interventions for a better admissions system. 

“Instead of applying to schools where (my peers) wanted to go and wanted to study, I saw them making sacrifices and compromises,” Ryu said. “The goal of any college admissions should be to maximize the welfare of the students instead of putting them at a disadvantage.”

In fall 2021, Ryu took a class with economics Prof. Eddie Dekel. The class taught Ryu how to model everyday human behavior through mathematics. 

Ryu said Dekel’s class helped him realize his academic interests. For his project, Ryu plans to make a mathematical model that  reflects current issues like college admissions. 

SURG is just one of several resources students can use to fund research projects. While OUR operates through the Office of the Provost, the schools also provide summer grants, such as the Nicholas D. Chabraja Center for Historical Studies’ Leopold Fellowship in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Summer Research Awards.

Weinberg freshman Evan Burleigh received the Weinberg Summer Grant to continue working as a research assistant for sixth-year Ph.D. candidate Clayton Rische at the Scott Lab, studying mast cells in cancer therapeutics. To apply for the award, Burleigh wrote a two-page proposal and found a faculty sponsor, he said. 

Burleigh said summer research is more time-intensive than research during the rest of the academic year, because he does not have classes. During the year, Burleigh assisted on one project, helping maintain the lab’s cell cultures. But with more free time over the summer, Burleigh got involved with the other research on which his mentor was working, he said. 

Burleigh, who studies biology and data science, said his research assistance supplements what he learns in class. He said his experience at the lab offers a taste of what research is like, helping him gauge whether he wants to pursue it in the future. 

“Biology is such a huge field that there are so many different things you can explore,” Burleigh said. “Getting the opportunity to hone in on what I think is cool is an amazing opportunity.”

Correction: A previous version of this article described the history department’s Leopold Fellowship incorrectly. The Daily regrets this error.

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Twitter: @JessicaMa2025

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