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IU’s undergraduate research promise is to pave the way for future innovators

Indiana University is steadfast in its commitment to training the next generation of thinkers, creators and innovators who will make our world a better place. Central to this mission is IU’s promise to provide every interested student with a valuable research or creative opportunity.

Undergraduate research significantly enhances the educational experience, which Vice President for Research Russell J. Mumper outlined at the most recent Board of Trustees meeting. Three 2024 IU graduates were invited there to share details of their personal experiences.

“My freshman year, I hopped onto Zoom office hours to ask my professor if he had any research opportunities,” said Victoria Seest, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from IU Bloomington. “This question led me to the Sustainability Scholars program. My research on drought-tolerant seed usage in the Eastern Corn Belt taught me that social science research is valuable, needed and right up my alley.”

Seest, who presented her research at two national conferences while at IU, also served as a McKinney Family Foundation Fellow. She developed a technical grant writing program aimed at assisting rural communities and helped the Monroe County Civil Government develop its first Climate Resilience Plan.

“My research experience coupled with my unique background set me up for success in my Corteva interview,” said Seest, who is now working as an associate territory manager at Corteva Agriscience. “IU has given me the confidence, curiosity and understanding of the importance of relationship building necessary to thrive in the workplace.”

Four people sit at a table in front of microphones

Seest’s experience is one of countless examples illustrating the power of engaging undergraduate students in research at the start of their academic career. History shows that the experiences and the knowledge, connections and work ethic they develop place IU graduates a step ahead of the competition in academic and professional pursuits.

A recent initiative to help undergraduate students gain such valuable experience is the 1st Year Research Immersion Program at IU Indianapolis. Launched in fall 2023, the program paired 174 students with faculty mentors to work on team projects across scientific and creative disciplines. Students achieved tangible outcomes, including co-authoring papers, presenting at conferences and gaining valuable career-applicable experience. According to the 1st Year Research Immersion Program’s satisfaction survey, 95 percent of students planned to continue participating in research or creative activities.

Indiana University also currently holds nine National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates awards, each spanning three to five years. REU sites, which are based on independent proposals, can focus on single disciplines or offer interdisciplinary research opportunities with a unified intellectual theme. Typically, these sites host eight to 12 students during the summer.

Edwin Antonio Sanchez, who graduated from IU’s Indianapolis campus with a Bachelor of Science in computer science, participated in an NSF REU studying cybersecurity under Department of Computer Information and Graphics Technology chair Feng Li and professor Xukai Zou.

“This experience gave me the chance to compare similarities and differences between different kinds of research and helped solidify some of the core critical-thinking skills needed to succeed in today’s world. That summer, I got to publish my first paper,” said Sanchez, who will be entering the master’s program in computer science at IU Indianapolis in the fall.

Daniel Adelfinsky, recipient of the Cox Research Scholarship and founding member of the Undergraduate Research Ambassadors, earned a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from IU Bloomington. His experience is also a testament to the importance of investing in and promoting undergraduate research.

He was second author on a multiyear project that was published in the prestigious journal Chemical Science, which provided him with valuable experience to highlight on his graduate school applications.

“This publication, alongside the rigorous training coupled with the mentorship of dedicated faculty, positioned me competitively for acceptance into the No. 1-ranked school in organic chemistry in the United States,” said Adelfinsky, who will be attending UC Berkeley as a first-year Ph.D. student in organic chemistry in the fall.

Mumper said the goal is to provide every interested undergraduate student with a valuable research or creative opportunity at IU. Rather than just partnering a single student with a single faculty member, the tiered mentoring model partners a group of up to 15 undergraduate students with one or two graduate students who are further connected to a faculty member to promote group experiences and problem solving. This model has been successfully applied at many research universities, and the results across many different disciplines have been extensively published.

Mumper is working with faculty and other leaders at IU to position undergraduate research at IU for significant donor funding opportunities. To learn more, contact IU Research at research@iu.edu.