2021 AURA Awardees: Elon University; Mercer University; University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

CUR Honors 2021 Recipients of the Campus-Wide Award for Undergraduate Research Accomplishments

CUR congratulates its 2021 Campus-Wide Award for Undergraduate Research Accomplishments (AURA) awardees Elon University (Elon, NC), Mercer University (Georgia), and University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (La Crosse, WI). This award recognizes institutions with exemplary programs that provide high-quality research experiences for undergraduates. A celebration of these awardees will take place during the national Undergraduate Research Week (URW) on Thursday, April 21, 2022.

Now in its seventh year, the AURA award draws on CUR’s Characteristics of Excellence in Undergraduate Research (COEUR), which outlines criteria for exceptional undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative activity programs. For AURA recognition, campuses must demonstrate depth and breadth in their undergraduate research initiatives and evidence of continual innovation. Institutions of different Carnegie classifications are considered for the award.

“The 2021 AURA recipients reflect more than exemplary undergraduate research programs,” said Lindsay Currie, CUR’s executive officer. “They demonstrate a dedication to the varying participation of students and disciplines, curriculum-based experiences, and opportunities for student-faculty recognition that even amongst this challenging and everchanging world, these universities exemplified steadfast commitment.”

Elon University, ranked among the top-100 National Universities, has built a sustainable model that expands participation and diversity in undergraduate research conducted outside of classes. Currently, Elon has reported 22% of undergraduate students and over 54% of undergraduate faculty engage in undergraduate research. Elon’s Research for Credit program demonstrates the importance of enhancing equity and inclusion in a sound undergraduate research program, but also the in-depth participation by faculty, students, and their surrounding community, shows great promise for easy adaption many colleges and universities may be looking for.

Connie Ledoux Book, president of Elon University explained, “This honor recognizes and reinforces the power of undergraduate research at Elon University, which is rooted in mentorship, discovery and personal achievement. Countless Elon students have benefited from the rich relationships developed working side-by-side with their mentors in the lab, out in the field and in the classroom. Undergraduate research continues to grow and flourish at Elon, and we’re grateful for this meaningful recognition of its important place within our university.”

With 51% of residential undergraduates participating in undergraduate research, Mercer University exemplifies what it means to support a robust undergraduate research program that spans the disciplines. The culture of service-based research, embedded in Mercer’s mission statement, was strengthened with the implementation of Research That Reaches Out, a curricular program that empowers students to address real-world problems through the integration of two high-impact practices: undergraduate research and service learning. The adaption of this program provides students with the experiences and skills required to engage in sophisticated research aimed at solving real problems faced by humanity and sets an admirable example for those colleges and universities looking for ways to connect with real world experiences.

“Undergraduate research is central to Mercer University’s commitment to experiential learning,” said William D. Underwood, president of Mercer University, “and we have a special focus on the integration of research and service. Initiatives such as Research That Reaches Out and Mercer On Mission, which pair faculty and students in our laboratories and libraries to solve pressing problems, have been key to the University’s significant expansion of undergraduate research over the last decade. We are grateful to the Council on Undergraduate Research for acknowledging Mercer as one of the country’s exemplary programs.”

Developing an undergraduate research office in 2011 to support student research and other scholarly and creative activities in all academic disciplines, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse has seen over 30% of their senior student population engage in undergraduate research of some kind. The program has overcome budget restraints by thinking outside the box and creating a variety of different revenue streams for programs such as the First Year Research Exposure and Eagle Apprentice Program, which engage students within their first two years on campus with faculty mentors. Despite financial challenges during the pandemic, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse was able to maintain and grow their programs providing a model for many other campuses to follow.

“We are thrilled to receive this prestigious affirmation of UW-La Crosse’s leading role in promoting and conducting outstanding undergraduate research,” said UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow. “Our faculty, students, and staff are engaged in wonderful collaborations, and receiving this award will certainly create even greater excitement about these activities. We are very grateful to The Council on Undergraduate Research for singling out the great work being done on our campus.”

“We are committed to providing transformational research experiences and creative activities to as many students as possible including first-year students, first-generation, low income, and minority students. This award should stimulate more interest in our programs, enhancing our efforts to make our research programs sustainable through funding from generous UWL alumni and friends,” said Scott Cooper, Undergraduate Research and Creativity coordinator.  

Founded in 1978, the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) focuses on providing high-quality and collaborative undergraduate research, scholarly, and creative activity. Among the many activities and networking opportunities that CUR provides, the organization also offers support for the professional growth of faculty and administrators through expert-designed institutes, conferences, and a wide-range of volunteer positions. The CUR community, made up of nearly 700 institutions and 13,000 individuals, continues to provide a platform for discussion and other resources related to mentoring, connecting, and creating relationships centered around undergraduate research. CUR’s advocacy efforts are also a large portion of its work as they strive to strengthen support for undergraduate research. Its continued growth in connections with representatives, private foundations, government agencies, and campuses world-wide provides value to its members and gives voice to undergraduate research. CUR is committed to inclusivity and diversity in all of its activities and our community.

CUR focuses on giving a voice to undergraduate research with learning through doing. It provides connections to a multitude of campuses and government agencies, all while promoting networking and professional growth to its community.

Elon University is a selective, mid-sized private university renowned as a national model for engaged and experiential learning. Students work closely with faculty who are dedicated to excellent teaching and scholarship. The curriculum is grounded in the traditional liberal arts and sciences and complemented by nationally accredited professional and graduate programs.

With more than 9,000 students enrolled in 12 schools and colleges on campuses in Macon, Atlanta, Savannah and Columbus, as well as two Regional Academic Centers around the state, Mercer University is consistently ranked among the nation’s leading institutions by publications such as U.S. News & World Report. While offering a breadth of programs found at much larger universities, Mercer maintains an intimate, student-focused culture more characteristic of smaller liberal arts colleges.

The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, founded in 1909, is one of the 13 four-year institutions in the University of Wisconsin System. UWL offers 130 degree programs from undergraduate to doctoral levels in arts, social science and humanities; science and health; business; and education. UW-La Crosse has remained the state’s top-ranked comprehensive campus in the UW System for more than 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report.