Office of Undergraduate Research sends students to national conference

As the semester comes to a close, some students will be searching high and low for a summer jobs, but others will be paid to do their own research through the Office of Undergraduate Research at Weber State University.

That was the case for Paul Castleberry in the summer of 2012. As the executive producer of Studio 76, Castleberry said his research was to find out what students wanted to watch.

“So what we did was we produced a video a week for 14 weeks over the summer semester last summer,” he said.

Castleberry then took the number of views from his produced videos and compared them to the videos produced by the channel when it was called Weber News.

“We learned a whole lot,” Castleberry said. “The top views over the summer for Weber News was 86 views for one video. For Studio 76, it was over 1,000. So that told us right off the bat that this is the kind of stuff that students want to watch.”

How Castleberry was able to spend his summer doing this research was by going through the Office of Undergraduate Research to receive funding. He said it helped fund the whole process, from getting new equipment to make the videos, to now funding Castleberry to go to the National Conference of Undergraduate Research.

Castleberry said that when a teacher told him he should try to get funding for his research, he was apprehensive of the process, because he had never written a research grant. He said he spent about a month working on the grant proposal and received a lot of help from the Office of Undergraduate Research as well as from professors.

“Our central mission is to provide undergraduate research,” said John Cavitt, director of the office, “both scholarly and creative activities for student across campus.”

Cavitt said the office is a place for students to learn about writing grant proposals and to gain research experience.

“We view this as a learning opportunity for students so that we can actually help the student to develop a project or write a grant for a project and be successful in getting funding,” Cavitt said. “It is oftentimes the first and sometimes only experience students have with writing grants, and it is a unique tool and experience for them. So we try to work with them to help them improve.”

Erin Daniels, office manager, said the office has four funding rounds where students can submit their funding applications. The applications are then reviewed by a committee composed of at least one faculty member from each college. She said grant-writing workshops take place before each funding round.

“Usually those who are not funded, we usually always encourage those students to revise them and resubmit them next funding round,” Daniels said. “It is generally advantageous to apply the first funding round of each semester, then they have a chance a month later to resubmit it and have it looked at.”

Daniels said the research opportunities are open to all colleges, and students will also receive the opportunity to work with a mentor during their research.

“We want to facilitate that kind of relationship and that kind of growth that students get when they are working with a mentor,” Daniels said.

She said the funding can cover materials students need, as well as stipends so students can get paid for their research work, mileage reimbursements and dissemination grants like the one Castleberry received to travel to the conference. Cavitt said the office understands that students at WSU usually hold jobs or have families, and adding a research project on top of that could be overwhelming. He said they knew they needed a way to allow students to do these projects and still support themselves.

“Most of the money that is actually being awarded to students actually comes from donations to this office from alumni and other groups who see the value in undergraduate research and have really supported it wholeheartedly,” Cavitt said.

Castleberry said most students probably plan to do their research whether it is funded or not, so students should take the chance and try to get funding from the office. He said learning how to write a grant is great preparation for graduate school as well. Something that started as a summer research project is now taking Castleberry to the National Conference of Undergraduate Research, which he said he is both excited and nervous about.

“They are an awesome resource for anyone who wants to do research projects,” he said. “I highly recommend anyone who wants to do a research project to get in touch with them and see what they can do to help.”