Summer CURI program adapts to virtual research

DeA Brown ’21 and Wei Ting Hsieh ’22 meet virtually with Professor Grace Cho.

St. Olaf College’s Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program has gone virtual this summer. But the online setting hasn’t stopped students from diving into their research with the same eagerness and drive that has characterized past on-campus CURI programs. 

A total of 27 faculty have quickly adapted to provide 77 students with expert guidance on research projects throughout the summer. Eighteen of these students are conducting their work as part of the St. Olaf TRIO McNair Scholars graduate school preparatory program, and are also enrolled in a research writing course taught by Associate Professor of Biology Jean Porterfield. Even without lab spaces and physical resources to gather data, faculty members and students are committed to meaningful research and inquiry projects. Spanning topics in the humanities, arts, and sciences, all projects except two are virtual, with students conducting research in their own homes.

“Our goals this summer remain the same: we want teams of students and faculty to pursue meaningful research projects relying on robust methods and practices as appropriate for their field,” says Associate Professor of Political Science and Asian Studies and Director of CURI Kathy Tegtmeyer Pak. “We still have summer programming underway for researchers, including a series of events that support students in learning how to effectively present their work, as well as our opening and closing symposia.”

The change to a virtual summer program has altered individual projects in different ways. Some groups can pursue the same goals with the same research methods, adapting only to remote communication; others have kept their goals while creating new ways to pursue their answers. Still other projects that relied on lab space and field experience have required more radical shifts, with some deciding to analyze prior data as opposed to conducting novel experiments.

The opening and closing symposia, though still taking place, have also changed. These usually in-person events, in which students give an overview of their research before and after completing their projects, have moved completely online. A virtual closing symposium will allow students to present their research findings live on July 31, and Tegtmeyer Pak hopes that conditions during spring 2021 will allow for a full in-person symposium to honor this summer’s research projects. 

“Most of all, I want to emphasize how flexible and creative my faculty colleagues are. They pivoted their projects on very short notice, while still in the midst of the unprecedented teaching practices last spring,” Tegtmeyer Pak says. “I am so glad to work alongside them to ensure our students have access to this meaningful opportunity  to do undergraduate research.”

(In the image above: DeA Brown ’21 and Wei Ting Hsieh ’22 meet virtually with Associate Professor of Psychology and Department Chair Grace Cho as they work together on a CURI project on “Variations in Life Narratives and Emotional Well-Being Among Young Adults.”)

By: Anna Barnard

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