Developing scholars program gives new K-Staters a chance to research
By Melissa Broeckelman
When Deidra Saina applied for graduate school at the University of Kansas, no one thought she would have trouble getting accepted. That's because as she was looking through the department of sociology's page on the university's Web site, she found a link to research she had done as an undergraduate at Kansas State University listed as a resource for sociology students.
Saina, pictured below, started researching as a freshman through the K-State Developing Scholars Program and is just one of its many success stories.
The Developing Scholars Program, which begins its fourth year at K-State this fall, is an initiative that matches historically underrepresented students, students of color and first-generation college students in research projects with faculty members when students first come to K-State. The focus of the program is to help students develop a broad knowledge base, obtain experience in their chosen fields, increase diversity across campus and improve student retention.
Students in the Developing Scholars Program, guided by Anita Cortez, administrative director, are paid to work on research with faculty members for six to 10 hours per week throughout the year and present their research to the public at the end of the spring semester.
Throughout the spring and summer, invitations are sent to incoming freshmen and sophomores who meet the initial program requirements. Those who respond then go through a selection process until all 30 slots in the program are filled. Because students may remain in the program for two or three years, between eight and 15 new students are selected each year.
"The students we select must meet high academic standards, but we also try to look for as much diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, academic majors and geographic location as possible," Cortez said. "If a student has just completed the program, we often look for someone in that general area of study to fill the opening."
Meanwhile, K-State faculty are also invited to participate in the Developing Scholars Program and are asked to submit descriptions of their research projects. When the students arrive at K-State in the fall, they prepare resumes and choose three projects in which they are interested. The students and faculty then go through a mutual interview process that allows them to self-select each other.
The Developing Scholars Program goes beyond getting students involved in research -- it also provides mentoring to help students adapt to K-State. During the first semester, developing scholars must enroll in a seminar that is designed to help them academically, personally and socially adapt to college life by learning how to interact with professors, find their social niche and deal with homesickness. During the second semester, students are busy preparing their research for presentation.
"When the students enter this program, they may feel in over their heads. However, we give them a lot of support and have a seminar to help prepare them for the work that they will be doing," Cortez said. "During the two or three years they are in the program, it's fun to see the major gains they make in knowledge and ability. By the time they leave, many of our students have the research ability to work at the level of graduate students, some have co-authorships and some travel abroad."
Tara Hacker, pictured above, is a senior in kinesiology from Shawnee who has been working on research with assistant professor Paul Estabrooks. She won an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., to present her research, "The Prevalence of Physical Activity of Kansans: The Use of Interventions Based on Group Dynamics Theory" at the Kappa Omicron Nu Undergraduate Research Paper Awards. Matt Padilla, a senior in anthropology from Topeka who has been working on research with assistant professor Lauren Ritterbush, spent his summer working at an archaeological dig site in Peru. Padilla is pictured below.
The Developing Scholars Program at K-State was modeled after a similar undergraduate research program at the University of Michigan. The K-State program will soon expand to help prepare transfer students for research in the fields of science and health through collaboration with five Kansas community colleges. Those transfer students will be able to begin research at a more advanced level when they arrive at K-State or another university. This addition to the program is part of the Bridges to the Future National Institutes of Health grant recently received by Denis Medeiros, professor and head of the department of human nutrition.
Cortez said faculty members have been very supportive, and some have even written allocations for developing scholars into their grant applications. She said the program was started with work-study funds, but now is supported through raising money from the different colleges on campus to support students studying in their respective colleges.
"We have been very fortunate," Cortez said. "Now it is time to do some major fund raising so that more students can take advantage of this wonderful opportunity."
Photos courtesy Anita Cortez.