Undergraduate Apprenticeship Program Gives Students an Edge in Job Market, Postgraduate Study

Posted: July 13, 2010 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: July 12, 2010 at 3:54 pm

By Ethan Vaughan

In today’s competitive economy, college students are doing whatever they can to distinguish themselves from the thousands of peers with whom they will be vying for comparatively few coveted jobs. While it still helps to have outstanding academic achievement coupled with pre-graduation work experience, there are other ways to stand out to prospective employers.

One of these is Mason’s Undergraduate Apprenticeship Program (UAP).

The well-received study option, which began in 2001, pairs Mason students with faculty mentors of their choice and grants them $1,000 stipends to conduct a semester’s worth of research on topics ranging from astrology to bioengineering to graphic-novel illustration.

At the end of the program, the students must present their findings or final project to an audience, with many opting to use the Colonial Academic Alliance as their venue.

“It’s a great program for students, and it shows that our students are creating a national profile for Mason,” says Deirdre Moloney, outgoing director for fellowships and director for the UAP.

“The UAP helps our students be competitive for fellowships and graduate and professional schools.”

Recognition of the UAP students’ accomplishments goes far beyond Mason’s walls; program participants have received prestigious national academic awards.

Among the former UAP students are a Truman Scholar, two Goldwater Scholars, a Junior Fellow at the Carnegie Institute for International Peace, three Fulbright Scholars, a Critical Language Scholar and a Rhodes finalist.

“These are nationally competitive fellowships, not just internal to Mason,” Moloney points out. “They’re some of the most prestigious fellowships American students can apply to.”

While most UAP participants come from science fields, some do not.

During the fall 2008 semester, Rachael Graham, BA English ’09, now a graduate student earning an MFA in creative writing with a concentration in poetry, embarked on an independent study with the UAP examining form in poetry under the mentorship of English professor Jennifer Atkinson.

“It was a lot of what helped me make my decision about going into the MFA program,” says Graham. “It was a really great opportunity to work on poetry seriously as a project, outside of the classroom.”

Graham says that working one-on-one with a professor has given her a different perspective.

“It made me take my own work a lot more seriously,” she says. “There’s a different kind of responsibility doing a project on your own with a teacher as your mentor than there is when you’re in a group in a classroom. It allowed me to set my own standards for my own work, so I set them really high. I figured if I got even close, I would accomplish something.”

Moloney notes that the UAP encourages students to take initiative, and she ticks off some examples of former UAP participants.

“Erica Porter was accepted to a great summer research program at the Harvard School of Public Health, where she did research on tuberculosis,” she says.

“There was one student, Deborah Rose Gutterboch, who wrote a graphic novel. Nick Howell created a patent for an environmentally-sustainable wire stripper. Lisa Horne discovered a galaxy.”

Fall 2010 UAP applications will be due in mid-August. See the website for more information.

Write to gazette at gazette@gmu.edu