Undergraduate Research Grows at UT Knoxville
KNOXVILLE – Playing the violin has been a way of life for Rachel Grubb.
“My favorite part of playing violin is being able to play in orchestras. It is such a cool experience. And you get to play with all the different instruments of the orchestra–all the strings, the woodwinds, the brass–which is really cool because it is loud because I love loud music and the percussion,” said Grubb, a senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Although she has been playing the violin since the age of 8, it was at UT Knoxville that the senior really mastered her craft and has grown as a musician.
“I have definitely grown so much here at UT, especially through my mentors and through the music programs that we have here, and we have great faculty,” Grubb said. “I have Professor Mark Zelmanovich, who I take weekly private lessons with, and also Professor James Fellenbaum, who I take lessons from for private orchestral conducting too. It is neat to be on both sides of the musical experience. Playing music and making sound and also being a conductor, which is more of the artistic leadership side of it, but you don’t actually make any sound.”
Grubb had the chance to display her gift at UT Knoxville’s first ever research week. The week put the spotlight on undergraduate researchers, scholars, artists and performers with a concert, an honors symposium, an art competition and a student paper competition. Grubb and hundreds of other students showed off their diverse talents in areas ranging from music to art to science to business.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former governor and president of UT, gave the keynote address “Research and the Public Good,” and UT Interim President Jan Simek led the honors symposium’s “University in Crisis” discussion.
Research week also featured the 14th annual Exhibition of Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement, also known as EURēCA, where 219 undergraduate students displayed their work and competed for the top spot in their fields. Participants were judged by a combination of UT Knoxville faculty members and community professionals.
Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek introduced EURēCA, discussing the importance of undergraduate research for students’ education and achieving UT Knoxville’s goal of being a top 25 research institution.
Grubb and fellow EURēCA competitor Todd Skelton are seniors in UT Knoxville’s College Scholars program, an interdisciplinary honors program where students essentially develop their own curriculum and work with a faculty mentor on an in-depth research project.
“It is one thing to be a student in a classroom but this takes my academic work to another level. Events like EURēCA let you show what UT students are doing and that is important to me,” Skelton said.
Skelton believes the chance to pursue undergraduate research has not only enhanced his college career but also his future.
“It is not just regurgitating information on a multiple-choice exam but rather encourages a student to challenge themselves and also contribute to what, if you are working with a faculty member, they are developing in the lab and to what your own student portfolio is,” he said.
In fact, EURēCA and research week shed light on just a sliver of the undergraduate research being done inside the halls of UT Knoxville. Over the past two years, undergraduate research has skyrocketed due to more resources that are available to students including credit hours for research and paid research opportunities.
“UT is committed to undergraduate research. Whether it is offering EURēCA, giving student awards for their work, or providing summers grants for students to travel or buy lab materials. Whatever it may be, that displays UT’s commitment,” said Skelton. “Also, professors are really interested in working with undergraduates. So having that access with leading professors in their fields is something UT prides itself on and something students should take advantage of.”
Greg Reed, associate vice chancellor for research, says studies on undergraduate learning show the value of connecting students to faculty and their research as early as possible.
“Education research has shown that students who get involved in faculty scholarship tend to be retained at a higher percentage, they graduate in less time and their GPA goes up. So there is a direct benefit for that undergraduate student,” Reed said.
He adds there is a benefit for the nation as well. Undergraduate researchers can become intellectual entrepreneurs who make positive contributions to society and keep the United States competitive in the international sphere.
“As we come up with more and better ideas faster, we will be in the leadership position,” said Reed. “By inspiring, instructing and giving opportunities, students will have the confidence to seek and create the next best idea in whatever areas they are working in.”
The UT Knoxville Office of Research coordinates the EURēCA competition to encourage, support and reward undergraduate participation in the campus research enterprise. Top awards are funded by the UT Chapter of Phi Kappa Phi National Honor Society and the William Franklin Harris III Undergraduate Research Award.
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