Thursday, August 17, 2023

Researchers present during the Summer Undergraduate Research Conference

The new school year at the University of Iowa means a new name for the central hub for undergraduate research on campus. The Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR), formerly known as the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates (ICRU), is doubling down on its mission to connect students with mentored faculty experiences that enrich their on-campus experience and build critical skills for the future workforce.

“We’re well-positioned to serve as the nucleus of research and creative activity for undergraduate students, and this new name better reflects that role,” said Bob Kirby, OUR director. “We are the office on campus you’re going to call if you are faculty member looking to engage students in your work or if you are an undergraduate student hoping to get involved in research.”

The renaming comes after a committee of faculty and staff from across campus conducted a review of the unit, proposing that OUR be recognized as the central point of service for all things related to undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative activity. In May, Tawny Tibbits started as the OUR associate director, a role created because of a recommendation from the review. In addition to Kirby serving as director and Tibbits serving as associate director, Laura Kowalski-Bliss serves as the administrative services coordinator for OUR.

Other recommendations from the committee include increasing OUR’s reach to faculty and students in the humanities and fine arts, better recognizing faculty mentors, and increasing fellowship award amounts, which have been unchanged since the office’s founding 17 years ago. Kirby hopes that the proposed changes will expand the range of academic disciplines and backgrounds of students participating in research.

“The more we broaden that range of people involved in research the better we’re going to be at addressing the broader questions that face society,” Kirby said.

Undergraduate research is recognized as a high-impact practice that supports retention and builds skill and new knowledge for students, including those who are not planning a research-focused career path. Approximately one in three UI students participate in research as undergraduates.  OUR aims to involve students in research earlier in their college career and ensuring that they can build skills during their research experience.

“The relevant problem-solving and communication experiences of my research team coupled with the mentorship I’ve received has led to phenomenal internship opportunities,” said Regan Day, a fourth-year student who serves as an OUR ambassador and has completed internships with the World Food Prize and the Iowa Secretary of State. “I’ve been able to see how political science and marketing communications interact in the real world, deepening my understanding and passion for both interests.”

OUR originated as a collaboration between the Office of the Provost and the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) in 2006, springing from Kirby’s efforts to engage Honors Program students in undergraduate research opportunities. Since its founding, OUR grew from running a single fellowship program to a full support system for all undergraduate researchers—with a team of ambassadors, multiple events to showcase student efforts, and resources for faculty with an interest in working with undergraduates. In 2019, the unit moved from the Honors Program to OVPR.

“OUR provides an important service to all corners of campus,” said Marty Scholtz, vice president for research. “I know they will continue to build on their legacy of connecting students and faculty to create transformative research experiences.”

To get involved in OUR’s programs for mentors and students, please visit the OUR website or contact the office at or 319-335-8336.