Apprenticeship Program Provides Undergrads with Valuable Research Experience

Posted: December 5, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Dave Andrews

The deadline for Mason’s “best and brightest” undergraduates to apply for spring term apprenticeships is fast approaching.

Each semester, 30 to 50 students from all areas of study apply to the Undergraduate Faculty-Student Apprenticeship program. About 15 are selected to work with faculty members throughout the semester in an “area of mutual interest.” The application deadline for first consideration in spring 2007 is Dec. 13.

Collaboratively, the student-faculty pair works on a specified scholarly project for 10 hours each week. The experience of working closely with a faculty member is intended to enrich students’ required course material and prepare them for the higher demands of graduate school.

Amanda Agan, a senior majoring in economics, is currently researching the effect of sex offender registration and public access to registry information via the Internet. She is working with Alexander Tabarrok, professor of economics. “Research is such an important part of graduate school, and I think participating in this program has helped me experience that – even as an undergraduate,” says Agan.

Another focus of the program is to refine the students’ presentation and communication skills through interaction with various professionals outside their area of expertise as well as with the other students researching different topics.

“The program offered the unique opportunity to interact with other motivated students once a month to discuss our research – both the successes we have and the obstacles we encounter – in order to learn from each other,” explains Agan.

About one-third of the students ultimately have their work displayed outside of Mason at research and disciplinary conferences or published in professional journals, says Laurie Fathe, associate provost for educational improvement and innovation. Fathe manages the apprenticeship program in the Center for Teaching Excellence.

“These students are the best and brightest Mason has to offer,” says Fathe. “I’m sure many of the faculty that have worked with them would say [these undergraduates] produce work at a level equal to or above that of our grad students.”

Mason Provost Peter Stearns inaugurated the apprenticeship program in 2001. Since then, approximately 200 students – drawn broadly from the sciences, arts, management, social sciences, engineering and humanities – have participated.

“We’ve had some terrific student-faculty research interactions, some of which have contributed to publications and other signs of significant discovery,” says Stearns. “We always hope to expand the program, but even as it is, it contributes significantly to the education of some of our most creative students.”

Some of the students will have their research on display at an on-campus research symposium scheduled for February. They will also be in the annual Innovations expo and the annual Colonial Academic Alliance undergraduate research conference, both scheduled for April.

“The program was a very humbling and rewarding experience. It really revealed my strengths and weaknesses with regard to my research capabilities,” says Luis Garzon-Negreiros, whose research analyzes the progress of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. He worked with David Davis, research assistant professor in the School of Public Policy. “The apprenticeship has opened doors that will help me thrive in a graduate school setting.”

For more information on applicant qualifications and the application process, visit the Center for Teaching Excellence web site.

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