Award Announcements

2024 Mentorship Excellence Awards

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In recognition of the pivotal role that mentors play in supporting undergraduate research and creative activity, the Office of Undergraduate Research is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2024 Mentorship Excellence Awards. These awards recognize two faculty members – one in a STEM field, and one in a non-STEM field – and one graduate student who exemplify the ways in which outstanding mentors challenge and support their students, enabling them to take intellectual risks and achieve milestones they might not have initially envisioned being able to reach.

Please join us in congratulating Ashley Helton, Ryan Talbert, and Olivia Corvino on their selection as this year’s Mentorship Excellence Award recipients. The awards were presented on Friday, April 12, 2024 during the Frontiers in Undergraduate Research Poster Exhibitions at Storrs.


2024 Mentorship Excellence Award winner Ashley Helton, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Natural Resources & the Environment

Ashley Helton, Associate Professor, Natural Resources & the Environment
Professor Helton was nominated by Nesyanvella Malk ’25 (CAHNR). The following text is excerpted from Nesyanvella’s nomination.

The majority of my strong undergraduate scientific skill set has in large part been shaped by Dr. Helton’s mentorship. From the beginning, Dr. Helton has set aside time for regular one on one meetings for scientific discussion and support, in addition to including me in her graduate laboratory meetings. Rather than try to keep me in my lane, she always encouraged me to fly high, encouraging me to attend postgraduate courses even though I myself was an undergraduate. She has always welcomed and encouraged my scientific questions. She presented me with scientific literature to build my knowledge base. She provided me with the opportunities to read manuscripts and write some of my first scientific literature. She helped me consider and apply for avenues of scholarship I did not know were available to me. She has invited me to multiple scientific network forums. I always feel Dr. Helton has my best interest at heart and I was moved when she actively sought out an additional internship for me because it shows she genuinely cares about the trajectory of my career. I will always be grateful for the time I have with Dr. Helton. – Nesyanvella Malk

 

 


Ryan Talbert, Assistant Professor, Sociology
Professor Talbert was nominated by Joseph Annan-Kingsley ’24 (CLAS), Samantha Gove ’24 (CLAS), and Kyle Makalusky ’24 (CLAS). The following text is excerpted from their nominations.

2024 Mentorship Excellence Award winner Ryan Talbert, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Sociology.

Dr. Talbert pushes and challenges his students to take their work and their own skills to the next level. He encourages his students to take their creative work to the next step as he often finds various venues for his lab students to present at. Throughout the three semesters that I actively participated in the lab, Professor Talbert never failed to support student inquiry, challenge students to take next steps in their research, and especially develop a holistic view of his students’ short-term and long-term goals. Dr. Talbert has had an impact on my undergraduate success and my early professional life far greater than can be expected from any mentor. Dr. Talbert crafted an environment that allowed creativity to be nurtured among each student, especially when it came to academic writing skills, which fostered a sense of innovation and collaboration.

Dr. Talbert is undeniably the most incredible mentor I have known as an undergraduate student at UConn. As a graduating senior, I have spent a lot of time in the past few months reflecting on my time in college. I am humbled to say that I have accomplished far more than I could have ever dreamed of in my time in college, and I am certain of the fact that I would not have accomplished a majority of those things without the mentorship of Dr. Talbert.

 

 

 


Olivia Corvino, Ph.D. Student, Nutritional Sciences
Olivia was nominated by Jonatan Schmitt ’24 (CAHNR). The following text is excerpted from Jonathan’s nomination.

2024 Mentorship Excellence Award winner Olivia Corvino, Ph.D. student in Nutritional Sciences.

Olivia has also taken a serious interest in orienting my lab work towards my career goals. During the time we have spent together, I have expressed to her that I am using this research opportunity to enhance my understanding of nutritional science, and I don’t see myself working in a lab environment in my career, so the methods and procedures that we follow can feel outside the scope of my nutrition application. I had told this to my Ph.D. students/teachers in the past, but Olivia has most significantly adjusted my lab experience to meet my academic goals. In addition to helping me understand the science behind each step in the procedural research process, Olivia puts significant emphasis on the research analysis conducted at the experiment’s end. She takes timeout of her schedule to ensure that I have a complete understanding of how the factors we implemented influenced the outcome. I will often ask long open-ended questions to further my understanding, and Olivia remains patient, connecting all the dots in my head until I feel satiated. She has helped to orient me to the different types of nutrition research which has helped me better understand where in this world of research I belong and will be more (or less) fulfilled. Her genuine care for my progress is evident in every interaction, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have such a dedicated mentor by my side.

 

 


Congratulations to the 2024 award recipients! The Office of Undergraduate Research thanks the undergraduate students who nominated their faculty and graduate student mentors as well as the Peer Research Ambassadors who served on this year’s selection committee.

• Congratulations, 2023 SURF Award Recipients!

The Office of Undergraduate Research is pleased to announce the selection of 48 undergraduate students to receive SURF Awards in support of their summer undergraduate research projects.

Click here to view the full list of Summer 2023 SURF awardees.SURF logo 2

Congratulations, SURF awardees! Your curiosity, initiative, and motivation were evident in your applications and you have an exciting summer of deep engagement with the process of academic inquiry ahead of you. We look forward to hearing about all you learn and discover!

We thank the faculty members who supported SURF applicants in a range of roles: mentors, letter writers, and faculty review committee members. SURF represents a collaborative effort between students and faculty. This program would not be possible without the support and participation of the UConn faculty!

OUR also extends thanks to SURF supporters in the UConn community. We are grateful to the Office of the Provost, the Office of the Vice President for Research, and to the Deans of the Schools and Colleges of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources; Engineering; Fine Arts; Liberal Arts and Sciences; Nursing; and Pharmacy, who all pledged funding to the SURF competition this year. Alumni, parents, and friends of UConn also helped fund SURF awards. This collaborative funding effort ensures that SURF supports a diverse array of undergraduate research endeavors. We are grateful to all of our program partners for making intensive summer research opportunities available to students seeking to enrich their undergraduate experience in this way.

Once again, congratulations to the recipients of 2023 SURF awards, and good luck with your summer projects!

• 2023 Mentorship Excellence Awards

mentorship3

In recognition of the pivotal role that mentors play in supporting undergraduate research and creative activity, the Office of Undergraduate Research is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2023 Mentorship Excellence Awards. These awards recognize two faculty members – one in a STEM field, and one in a non-STEM field – and one graduate student who exemplify the ways in which outstanding mentors challenge and support their students, enabling them to take intellectual risks and achieve milestones they might not have initially envisioned being able to reach.

Please join us in congratulating Na Zhang, Wendy Mok, and Chelsea Garcia on their selection as this year’s Mentorship Excellence Award recipients. The awards were presented on Friday, April 14, 2023 and Tuesday, April 18, 2023 during the Frontiers in Undergraduate Research Poster Exhibitions at Storrs and Stamford.


Na Zhang, Assistant Professor, Human Development and Family Sciences
Professor Zhang was nominated by Victoria Almazán ’25 (CLAS) and Abigail Ricketts ’24 (CLAS). The following text is excerpted from their nominations.

A portrait of Na Zhang
2023 Mentorship Excellence Award winner Na Zhang, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Sciences.

When choosing a career path, I was often stuck on what would bring me everything I wanted: a clinical outcome for social good, as well as the opportunity to keep learning, writing, and reading every day. I considered a variety of careers such as social work, medicine, therapy, and more. However, these were all missing a certain component and I did not want to settle. Through learning research skills, I realized that research filled the learning component of my career goal and made it a goal to become more involved. However, I was still stumped on what that meant for me career-wise. I decided to set up a meeting with Dr. Zhang and ask for her thoughts. I described to her in a very dramatic way that I was suffering from a career crisis. She listened to me and asked me what my research interests were and told me about clinical psychology. While I had heard about the career previously, my understanding of it was vague at best. I researched people in the field, graduate programs, and more, and learned that it fit every single component I was looking for. Since describing this career goal to Dr. Zhang, she only increased her level of support. I am extremely grateful to have a mentor like Dr. Zhang help me shape my research interests in the social sciences and broaden my horizons in learning experiences I never expected to have. – Victoria Almazán

It quickly became obvious to me that Dr. Zhang is the type of mentor who genuinely cares about me, my interests, and my success. When developing my research plan she helped me to go above and beyond what I thought I was capable of doing. For example, Dr. Zhang encouraged me to submit an abstract of my preliminary findings to a psychology research conference. Before, I was not very aware of what occurs at these research conferences and how much of a benefit being accepted to present at one would be. With her guidance, I was able to submit an abstract and be accepted to present at the annual Association for Psychological Sciences Convention. This will be extremely beneficial for my professional and research goals because I will be able to see what research is currently being conducted in my field, as well as network with experienced and successful professionals. Dr. Zhang is the reason I will be able to have this opportunity that I didn’t even know was possible for me. – Abigail Ricketts


Wendy Mok, Assistant Professor, Molecular Biology and Biophysics
Professor Mok was nominated by Stephanie Schofield ’23 (CLAS). The following text is excerpted from Stephanie’s nomination.

A portrait of Wendy Mok
2023 Mentorship Excellence Award winner Wendy Mok, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology and Biophysics.

Since the day I joined the lab, Wendy has challenged me to grow as both a scientist and as a person. In the first months before I even started working in person with her, she set up weekly meetings to help me digest scientific research papers so that I set a strong foundation for my research. After my very first poster at Fall Frontiers, Wendy challenged me to go further. Together, we worked on submitting abstracts to various conferences across New England. I recall, when I went to the BIG EAST Symposium to present my work, she was so excited that she posted a picture of me in front of my poster, and I was so honored by this. Wendy motivated me to apply for grants and programs, supporting me tirelessly on the applications and also quelling my fear of failure. When I received word that I was not selected for one program, I was devastated. Wendy hugged me and told me, “Do you know how many grants I have applied for in my life?” and when I was unsure, she answered, “Probably 50 by now, and all I needed was one to come through.” Months later, we worked to turn that unsuccessful proposal into a SURF award application that supported my research last summer and made me hungry to keep dreaming bigger. In the fall, I independently applied for a Fulbright grant and recently learned of my selection as a finalist! The foundation I built in Wendy’s lab, both in terms of technical skills and writing skills, made these opportunities possible.

Aside from her mentorship, over the last two years, Wendy has grown to become like a mother to me. While I have been responsible for my own success, Wendy has made my dreams possible through all her love, support, encouragement, and mentorship. I walked into her lab a timid, shy undergraduate, and now walk out with five posters, three projects, two successful grants, and one publication under my belt. Sometimes I get emotional about leaving the lab after graduating this spring. Wendy once gave me a big hug and showed me that she had cut a leaf off of our lab plant in her office. She told me that when anyone graduates from her lab, they get their own piece of the plant as a parting gift. “You’re just beginning, with me you’ve grown so much that now you get a new pot, a new environment. And you’ll grow and thrive there always knowing that we are just one family in your life.”


Chelsea Garcia, Ph.D. Student, Nutritional Sciences
Chelsea was nominated by Paige Dossias ’23 (CAHNR). The following text is excerpted from Paige’s nomination.

A portrait of Chelsea Garcia
2023 Mentorship Excellence Award winner Chelsea Garcia, Ph.D. student in Nutritional Sciences.

Like many new students, I felt intimidated about working in a lab. However, after meeting Chelsea for the first time, my worries were immediately put at ease. She was incredibly welcoming and gave me a thorough tour of the lab we would be working in together. Once I began reading the lab protocols, I admitted I was struggling to understand. Chelsea took the time to reassure me that this was completely normal and that she would explain things on a step-by-step basis, which was a great relief. After the first week, I knew I wanted to be involved in this lab for my remaining time at UConn.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have Chelsea as a mentor. She is someone I know I can always count on for support – not only with my research projects, but also for guidance on opportunities outside the lab. Chelsea creates an open and safe environment where students can go to her for just about anything. She has answered what feels like thousands of questions and has made time to meet with students even when she is busy. Whenever she learns that I am working on a project or a piece of writing, she offers to review and provide constructive feedback. Chelsea makes it clear to everyone in the lab to prioritize their health above all else. It is evident that she has a genuine passion for mentorship and wants us to succeed. She is an excellent role model — from how she teaches students in our lab, to her willingness to support other students and faculty, as well as her hard work and dedication to research and academics.

With Chelsea’s guidance, I have become more independent and able to solve problems on my own. She has shown me her thought-process on how to approach issues when challenges arise in the lab. She emphasizes how mistakes are an important part of the learning process and how we can use them to grow as researchers. She taught me to document every observation, which is something I have incorporated into my everyday life. For every protocol I’ve learned, Chelsea ensures I understand how each experiment and reagents work before moving on. She even goes as far as to share examples of safety hazards she’s witnessed in the past, as well as the most common lab errors and sources of contamination. These examples have been invaluable to me and I’ve been able to pass this learning onto incoming students.

Chelsea continually encourages me to take on new projects and apply for awards, even when I was uncertain. One of the most frequent phrases she says is, “I believe in you.” I am in awe of how much I’ve grown as a student, researcher, and person under her guidance. I never could have imagined how much I would learn through research and how incredibly rewarding and fun it can be. Even with something as simple as blasting Disney music while we work, she is always looking for ways to create an enjoyable and relaxing learning environment. I cannot thank Chelsea enough for her unwavering support and guidance during my time here at UConn. She has had a profound impact on my undergraduate experience, which will serve me for years to come. She has been one of the best mentors I’ve ever had and given me a foundation to build on for my future. For this, I am forever grateful.


Congratulations to the 2023 award recipients! The Office of Undergraduate Research thanks the undergraduate students who nominated their faculty and graduate student mentors as well as the Peer Research Ambassadors who served on this year’s selection committee.

• Congratulations, Spring 2022 UConn IDEA Grant Recipients!

Congratulations to the twenty-two undergraduates who have been awarded UConn IDEA Grants in the spring 2022 funding cycle!

Nineteen of the award recipients will be completing individual projects, and three will be working on a collaborative group project. The award recipients represent a variety of disciplines, from civil engineering to human rights, and music to psychological sciences. They will conduct independent research projects, engage in creative endeavors, and implement initiatives that will benefit the University community.

Click here to view the list of spring 2022 UConn IDEA Grant award recipients.

Special thanks to the faculty and staff who supported student applications to the UConn IDEA Grant and to those who will be mentoring the award recipients as they complete their projects.

The UConn IDEA Grant program awards funding to support self-designed projects including artistic endeavors, community service initiatives, research projects, prototyping and entrepreneurial ventures, and other creative and innovative projects. Undergraduates in all majors at all UConn campuses can apply. Applications are accepted twice per year from individuals and from small groups who plan to work collaboratively on a project.

• Congratulations, 2022 SURF Award Recipients!

The Office of Undergraduate Research is pleased to announce the selection of 39 undergraduate students to receive SURF Awards in support of their summer undergraduate research projects.

Click here to view the full list of Summer 2022 SURF awardees.SURF logo 2

Congratulations, SURF awardees! Your curiosity, initiative, and motivation were evident in your applications. In spite of the challenges you faced this year, you have an exciting summer of deep engagement with the process of academic inquiry ahead of you. We look forward to hearing about all you learn and discover!

We thank the faculty members who supported SURF applicants in a range of roles: mentors, letter writers, and faculty review committee members. SURF represents a collaborative effort between students and faculty. This program would not be possible without the support and participation of the UConn faculty!

OUR also extends thanks to SURF supporters in the UConn community. We are grateful to the Office of the Provost, the Office of the Vice President for Research, and to the Deans of the Schools and Colleges of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources; Business; Education; Engineering; Fine Arts; Liberal Arts and Sciences; Nursing; and Pharmacy, who all pledged funding to the SURF competition this year. Alumni, parents, and friends of UConn also helped fund SURF awards. This collaborative funding effort ensures that SURF supports a diverse array of undergraduate research endeavors. We are grateful to all of our program partners for making intensive summer research opportunities available to students seeking to enrich their undergraduate experience in this way.

Once again, congratulations to the recipients of 2022 SURF awards, and good luck with your summer projects!

• 2022 Mentorship Excellence Awards

mentorship3

In recognition of the pivotal role that mentors play in supporting undergraduate research and creative activity, the Office of Undergraduate Research is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2022 Mentorship Excellence Awards. These awards recognize two faculty members – one in a STEM field, and one in a non-STEM field – and one graduate student who exemplify the ways in which outstanding mentors challenge and support their students, enabling them to take intellectual risks and achieve milestones they might not have initially envisioned being able to reach.

Please join us in congratulating Jason Oliver Chang, Sarah Knutie, and Mia Kawaida on their selection as this year’s Mentorship Excellence Award recipients. The awards were presented on Friday, April 8, 2022 during the 25th annual Frontiers in Undergraduate Research Poster Exhibition.


Jason Oliver Chang, Associate Professor, History and Asian American Studies
Professor Chang was nominated by Karen Lau ’25 (CLAS). The following text is excerpted from Karen’s nomination.

A portrait of Jason Oliver Chang
2022 Mentorship Excellence Award winner Jason Oliver Chang, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History and Asian American Studies.

During my freshman year, I took Dr. Chang’s Asian American Experience Since 1850 course and became his mentee. He encouraged me to join Make Us Visible CT, a group of educators and students working together to advocate for the development and implementation of Asian American studies curricula in public schools across multiple states. Through Make Us Visible, I worked with fellow students to collect data on the demographics of public school districts, Boards of Education, and Directors of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Connecticut. As a young, Asian American woman, I have seldom seen myself represented by my educators’ experiences or cultures. Dr. Chang’s teaching has opened my eyes to beautiful aspects of my family’s immigration history, culture, heritage, and identity that I have been blind to in the past.

Currently, Dr. Chang and I are working with the Connecticut Commission on Women, Children, Seniors, Equity & Opportunity to create a first-of-its-kind political opinion survey for Asian American Connecticut residents. Throughout the creation of this survey, Dr. Chang has taught me about building large-scale surveys and ethical data collection. He motivated me to draft questions about accessibility, civic engagement, political opinions, and the impact of COVID-19. Dr. Chang’s vision of uplifting Asian residents of Connecticut has been extremely inspiring.

Dr. Chang inspired me to be unafraid of the unknown, to dig deeper to learn about my home state’s impact on Asian Americans, and to be bolder in my advocacy in education reform. He frequently made space for me to ask questions, provide my ideas and insight, and empowered me to collaborate with historians and cultural anthropologists. At a time when I struggled with separating my identity from being a student the most, Dr. Chang taught me that I am much more than a student; in fact, I am capable of changing the education landscape and battling inequities that my generation faces. Dr. Chang is never discouraging or doubtful of his students’ abilities to conduct research in history. He works with students to achieve their academic and social goals, whether that may be lobbying the CT General Assembly to pass ethnic studies legislation or creating a curriculum about power and colonialism. His extraordinary compassion for his students, his commitment to increasing the visibility of students of color, and his fierce advocacy for policies that benefit marginalized students and educators have benefited me immensely. Without any doubt, Dr. Chang’s mentorship has been the most empowering aspect of my college experience at UConn.


Sarah Knutie, Assistant Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Professor Knutie was nominated by Mahima Mehta ’22 (CLAS). The following text is excerpted from Mahima’s nomination.

A portrait of Sarah Knutie
2022 Mentorship Excellence Award winner Sarah Knutie, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Science and research touch all aspects of our lives. Up until my sophomore year of college, I had a very skewed view of it all – I knew it existed, but I didn’t know to what extent and completely believed it was not something for someone like me. Upon my first conversation with Dr. Sarah Knutie, I was amazed by the questions she was investigating and could clearly see myself working in her lab. When I became a member of the Nest Parasite Community Science Project, this was my first exposure to research and I found myself nervous. I didn’t know what to expect and was afraid I wouldn’t do well. I quickly realized how silly these fears were as Dr. Knutie supported and encouraged me to ask questions to clarify and better understand the various topics being investigated.

The largest lesson, and most important lesson, Dr. Knutie has taught me is the importance of asking questions. It is rather easy to feel, as an undergraduate student, that the questions we have may be “dumb.” Dr. Knutie made a conscious effort to squash that misconception and taught me asking questions is the basis of research and science. When I joined her lab, Dr. Knutie encouraged me to keep a notebook of things I noticed and wondered. We revisited that notebook a year later and I had developed pages of trends and questions, some of which had the potential to be studied in my remaining time as an undergraduate student. Dr. Knutie suggested I choose the question that most interested me to pursue as an independent research project. As someone who has always been interested in the effects of climate change, I developed a project that focused on that and applied for an IDEA Grant. She helped me every step of the way, reminding me that no question is a bad question and that she was there to guide me through the process.

Outstanding mentors not only lead by example, but also provide opportunities for their mentees to learn through experience. After participating in the Nest Parasite Community Science Project for a year, I became the lead undergraduate on the project – my first time leading anything this big. Despite Dr. Knutie being at her long-term study site in the Galápagos, she has made sure to always be available to me when I need her, and has even gone as far as to set up weekly meetings to discuss that project, my IDEA Grant project, and work on presenting research in a poster and manuscript. I joined the lab without having the slightest idea of the opportunities that research may come with, and now I am working on my very own manuscript and coauthoring another. This is incredibly exciting as it makes the broader impact of the study more tangible. A large part of Dr. Knutie’s research focuses on scientific communication and making the questions we investigate digestible to the public. She has shown me the importance of making science accessible to everyone.

Dr. Knutie exemplifies excellence in mentorship because of the unique sense of purpose, importance, and passion she enables us to find in ourselves. The members of the Knutie Lab agree that she truly wants us all to succeed. Dr. Knutie has been my biggest supporter and inspiration and I am incredibly grateful for her encouragement in all of my passions.


Mia Kawaida, Ph.D. Student, Animal Science
Mia was nominated by Vianna Bassani ’23 (CAHNR). The following text is excerpted from Vianna’s nomination.

A portrait of Mia Kawaida
2022 Mentorship Excellence Award winner Mia Kawaida, Ph.D. student in Animal Science.

Beginning undergraduate research, I did not know what to expect, as I had never participated in anything like this before. I was nervous to work with graduate students and PI’s knowing I had such limited experience. Meeting Mia through Dr. Reed’s lab relieved these nerves and has helped me be where I am today. Mia was always so caring and welcoming from the start. She helped me understand basic laboratory techniques and worked closely with me to help me actually understand what I was doing, instead of just going through the motions.

When I first started the lab work for my project, Mia and I sat down together and went through my assay kit. We read every word of the manual together, did every step together, and spent 7 hours together in one day to get it done, just to find out that we would not be able to use the data and would have to redo everything. While I was disappointed with the result, Mia took this so-called failure and turned it into a positive learning experience that science is not always easy or perfect but it is messy, and that is what makes science, science, as our PI Dr. Reed would say.

This year, I really feel like I have gained an appreciation for research, and this comes in part from working with Mia. She is patient, knowledgeable, and dedicated to the field, and these are the reasons I look up to her when completing my own research project now. From spending time practicing pipetting to hours working on my own assays, Mia has been there to support me and provide me with assistance, including answering the infinite questions that arise. It is important to mention that Mia’s PhD project does not even include the sheep research, however, you would never know because she is 100% dedicated to the project and leads with ease. Through working closely with Mia inside the lab, she is one of the reasons I was given the privilege of becoming a shift leader for feeding and checking the research sheep, lambs, and calves. This opportunity not only gave me the confidence to feel like I belonged in the lab and field of research, but that I was also provided with hands-on experience and leadership skills that I know are positively contributing to my future career goals. As I continue in research through my undergraduate career, I will continue to appreciate the kindness, organization, ethical care for the research animals, and mentorship that Mia embodies.


Congratulations to the 2022 award recipients! The Office of Undergraduate Research thanks the undergraduate students who nominated their faculty and graduate student mentors as well as the Peer Research Ambassadors who served on this year’s selection committee.

• Congratulations, Fall 2021 UConn IDEA Grant Recipients!

Congratulations to the seven undergraduates who have been awarded UConn IDEA Grants in the fall 2021 funding cycle!

The award recipients represent a variety of disciplines, from animal science to mechanical engineering, and music to molecular & cell biology. They will conduct independent research projects, engage in creative endeavors, implement educational programming, and lay the groundwork for an entrepreneurial venture.

Click here to view the list of fall 2021 UConn IDEA Grant award recipients.

Special thanks to the faculty and staff who supported student applications to the UConn IDEA Grant and to those who will be mentoring the award recipients as they complete their projects.

The UConn IDEA Grant program awards funding to support self-designed projects including artistic endeavors, community service initiatives, research projects, prototyping and entrepreneurial ventures, and other creative and innovative projects. Undergraduates in all majors at all UConn campuses can apply. Applications are accepted twice per year from individuals and from small groups who plan to work collaboratively on a project.

• Spring 2022 SHARE Award Recipients Announced

Congratulations to the 10 student-faculty pairs selected to receive SHARE Awards to support their work on projects of mutual interest during the spring 2022 semester!

Click here to view the full list of Spring 2022 SHARE Award Recipients.

The SHARE Award program supports undergraduate research apprenticeships in the social sciences, humanities, and arts. Designed especially for students in the earlier stages of their college careers, SHARE apprenticeship experiences offer students an introduction to research and help them develop the skills they will need for future research projects.

Click here for more information on the SHARE Award program.

• Congratulations, 2021 SURF Award Recipients!

The Office of Undergraduate Research is pleased to announce the selection of 56 undergraduate students to receive SURF Awards in support of their summer undergraduate research projects.

Click here to view the full list of Summer 2021 SURF awardees.SURF logo 2

Congratulations, SURF awardees! Your curiosity, initiative, and motivation were evident in your applications. In spite of the challenges you faced this year, you have an exciting summer of deep engagement with the process of academic inquiry ahead of you. We look forward to hearing about all you learn and discover!

We thank the faculty members who supported SURF applicants in a range of roles: mentors, letter writers, and faculty review committee members. SURF represents a collaborative effort between students and faculty. This program would not be possible without the support and participation of the UConn faculty!

OUR also extends thanks to SURF supporters in the UConn community. We are grateful to the Office of the Provost, the Office of the Vice President for Research, and to the Deans of the Schools and Colleges of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources; Education; Engineering; Fine Arts; Liberal Arts and Sciences; Nursing; and Pharmacy, who all pledged funding to the SURF competition this year. Alumni, parents, and friends of UConn also helped fund SURF awards. This collaborative funding effort ensures that SURF supports a diverse array of undergraduate research endeavors. We are grateful to all of our program partners for making intensive summer research opportunities available to students seeking to enrich their undergraduate experience in this way.

Once again, congratulations to the recipients of 2021 SURF awards, and good luck with your summer projects!

• 2021 Mentorship Excellence Awards

mentorship3

In recognition of the pivotal role that mentors play in supporting undergraduate research and creative activity, the Office of Undergraduate Research is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2021 Mentorship Excellence Awards. These awards recognize two faculty members – one in a STEM field, and one in a non-STEM field – and one graduate student who exemplify the ways in which outstanding mentors challenge and support their students, enabling them to take intellectual risks and achieve milestones they might not have initially envisioned being able to reach.

Please join us in congratulating Bradley Wright, Beth Lawrence, and Jessica Gutiérrez on their selection as this year’s Mentorship Excellence Award recipients. As we are only able to celebrate the 2021 Mentorship Excellence Awards virtually this spring, we look forward to presenting the awards in person later this year during the Fall Frontiers in Undergraduate Research Poster Exhibition in October 2021.


Bradley Wright, Professor, Sociology
Professor Wright was nominated by Nidhi Nair ’23 (CLAS) and Irene Soteriou ’23 (CLAS). The following text is excerpted from Irene’s nomination.

Bradley Wright
2021 Mentorship Excellence Award winner Bradley Wright, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology.

I first began working with Dr. Wright during my freshman year. This was my first experience with undergraduate research, and I am grateful to Dr. Wright because his purpose-driven and student-focused approach enabled me to grow extensively from this experience, both in learning to redefine my understanding of research, and also in considering my own identity within this context. As a freshman with little confidence in my own capacity as a researcher and no clear understanding of the greater purpose of engaging in research, I was consistently challenged intellectually in the very best way from my every interaction with Dr. Wright. He inspired me to question my preconceptions, motivated me to dig deeper in pursuit of knowledge, and believed in me before I believed in myself. Dr. Wright was always excited to engage in deep, thought-provoking conversations, and from them I was able to reflect more often and more carefully on my identity, reassess my impact, and reevaluate my priorities. Over time, I found that the girl who applied to UConn with a very vague and superficial notion of her future had become a woman with a much more grounded and meaningful awareness of her present purpose.

Dr. Wright stands out as the best candidate for this award because of the unique sense of purpose that he instills in his mentees. Under Dr. Wright’s mentorship, my view of undergraduate research transformed from something one typically does in college because it is the expectation, to something one does for a purpose — it became exciting and exploratory and meaningful rather than just another box to tick off from my college experience. His mentorship and contagious enthusiasm for learning guided me towards greater clarity of how I could reframe my life in this context — how I could pursue research, scholarship, and creative activity with a greater intention in mind. And beyond making himself consistently available to discuss ideas, provide constructive feedback, and offer advice, Dr. Wright supported me further in the pursuit of my purpose by nominating me for growth-intensive programs, connecting me with contacts, and writing letters of recommendation so that I could pursue future scholastic development.

I immediately thought of Dr. Wright when I saw this award opportunity because he continues to make an effort to understand my short- and long-term goals within the context of my purpose, and is always challenging me to take the next steps in my work, whether through programs, conversations, initiatives, or research projects. Dr. Wright has also demonstrated excellent mentorship by serving as a role model. By maintaining transparency and inclusivity in his leadership of our research team, Dr. Wright has given me a style of leadership to look up to as I inherit larger leadership roles myself. His eagerness to support the success of those around him motivates me to do the same, and his love for his work inspires me to seek out what brings me fulfillment as well. Moreover, his emphasis on recognizing the impact and purpose behind all that we do in our research team has translated significantly into the way that I now lead my own life, and given me a profoundly transformative outlook moving forward.


Beth Lawrence, Assistant Professor, Natural Resources and the Environment
Professor Lawrence was nominated by Drew Tienken ’22 (CLAS). The following text is excerpted from Drew’s nomination.

Beth Lawrence
2021 Mentorship Excellence Award winner Beth Lawrence, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Natural Resources and the Environment.

Dr. Lawrence has exposed me to a breadth of opportunities that have fostered my personal and professional growth, helped satisfy my academic curiosities, and prepared me for a successful future as I aim to attend law school. To put into context how influential and extraordinary of a mentor she is, the graduate students and I in our lab describe ourselves as being in a ‘Beth Bubble,’ as we have the pleasure of being around a mentor who is able to consistently inspire us to be better scientists and people. After working with her over the past two years, Beth has continuously been able to push me towards success. Watching her passion for wetlands as she explains important concepts to me has been infectious and greatly increased my interest in wetlands research. When we talk about science, she makes sure that I understand not just the ‘what’ and the ‘why,’ but also the ethical and societal dilemmas of scientific investigation, such as describing why it’s important to have a colorblind palette on your figures, or how to be actively anti-racist while conducting environmental research. Her relationship with her students as a mentor goes beyond the superficial, as she continuously stresses the importance of taking breaks and caring for one’s mental health in times where external stress is high. When I was considering doing research my freshman year, I was admittedly a little scared. After I met Dr. Lawrence, I realized that my fears were irrational; Dr. Lawrence has enabled me to grow throughout my undergraduate career as a student, scientist, and person.

I admire Dr. Lawrence most for her tenacity as a mentor, her willingness to push me forward, and her dedication to see her students grow. One moment I will never forget was being awarded a coastal science research fellowship from the Connecticut Sea Grant. I remember it not for the award itself, but more so the context surrounding it. Early in Spring 2020, Dr. Lawrence pointed me to this external fellowship and expressed how she thought it would be a good opportunity for my academic development. Although I was unsure and nervous to apply at the time, Dr. Lawrence couldn’t have been more correct. She pushed me to apply, and together we wrote a proposal and I received the fellowship. However, shortly after I was awarded it COVID struck and I was absolutely heartbroken. I had been so close to pursuing my own research project, collecting my own data, and answering my own question. I remember how Beth acted when I went to discuss how COVID would affect my project with her. It wasn’t the defeated sentiment that ‘the project is ruined’ like I was thinking. It wasn’t a question of ‘what’s the next opportunity;’ with Dr. Lawrence it was a question of ‘how do we change this proposal to allow you to continue to grow? How do we make this proposal COVID safe so you can receive the experience you deserve?’ A few weeks prior to this meeting, I had lost an immediate family member as well. I told Dr. Lawrence about the news and how it affected my financial situation, and like any mentor who truly cares about their students she encouraged me to take time for myself to process and reassured me that research will wait. Under the surface, however, she continued to think of a way for me to be able to complete the fellowship I applied for, not just for the experience itself but also because she was aware that my family member’s loss caused me newfound financial insecurity. In the end, she helped me formulate a new question where I could use remote sensing and satellite imagery to map the extent of salt marsh grass zones, safely from my laptop in my own home. Because of her tenacity and dedication to her students, I was able to have an enriching fellowship experience. In the wake of a family emergency and COVID-19, I was lucky enough to have a mentor who understood my circumstances and pushed me for greatness. I am incredibly grateful to have met Dr. Lawrence and have her as a mentor; her kindness has truly changed my life.


Jessica Gutiérrez, M.S. Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Jessica was nominated by Mahima Mehta ’22 (CLAS). The following text is excerpted from Mahima’s nomination.

Jessica Gutierrez
2021 Mentorship Excellence Award winner Jessica Gutiérrez, M.S. Student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

To put it simply, if it were not for Jessica, I would not have found the right research lab for me – nor would I have the opportunities that come with being in a research lab. As a sophomore, I was interested in research but had no idea how I could go about getting involved because I was unaware of the process. Jessica took the time to have multiple meetings with me where she helped me find professors that were conducting research and better understand the work they did. She even went as far as teaching me how to write an email to reach out to professors and how to conduct a strong interview with them. With her help, I was able to join Dr. Sarah Knutie’s research lab, a lab where she is also a member.

One of the most exciting aspects of research is the ability to ask new questions. Oftentimes, students have questions but are unsure of how to go about asking them. I was one of those students and, fortunately, Jessica took me under her wing so I could find ways to answering my research questions. After joining the same research lab that she is involved in, she has continued to aid me in my short and long-term goals. Jessica has continuously provided constructive feedback on my scientific writing, helped critique my interview-taking strategies, and assisted me in networking with other individuals with similar interests as me. This can particularly be seen in her involvement in the UConn SEEDS Chapter. As the Graduate Student Representative, she has been inclusive in easing our tensions about life after our undergraduate career and how to navigate the process that follows, regardless of our backgrounds or prior knowledge. This is especially reflective of Jessica’s character because we both are people of color and first-generation college students. For this reason, she is truly able to develop a holistic view of the kind of person I am because she understands what I have gone through as a fellow person of color.

She is transparent with her experiences and is willing to answer all questions I may have that relate to relevant skills I’ll need for my future. Jessica has helped me raise my confidence in myself as both a student and researcher. If it were not for her guidance, I would not have become the researcher that I am today. She is the embodiment of an intelligent and hard-working woman. Having met Jessica has been one of the biggest highlights of my college career because she has opened an abundance of doors that I didn’t even know were available to me. Jessica has taught me the importance of believing in myself and my capabilities, and I cannot thank her enough!


Congratulations to the 2021 award recipients! The Office of Undergraduate Research thanks the undergraduate students who nominated their faculty and graduate student mentors as well as the Peer Research Ambassadors who served on this year’s selection committee.