Promoting Undergraduate Research: Awards help undergraduates pursue research interests abroad


By: Tianna Harris
VCU Global Education Office
Phone: (804) 828-3636

RICHMOND, Va. (Oct. 16, 2014)— As the crisp days of autumn rapidly approach, summer feels like a distant memory. But for three undergraduate students at Virginia Commonwealth University, research projects conducted over the summer continue to make a significant impact as the fall semester takes shape.

Through the Global Education Office (GEO) Undergraduate Research Fellowship, hosted by the VCU Office of Research Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), junior Ling-lin Ku, and seniors Samantha Correa and Siobhan Gray participated in research projects which enabled them to engage significantly with international cultures while simultaneously building their research skills.

 Junior Ling-lin Ku and her mentor traveled three thousand miles along the Silk Road, a network of trails and trading routes that connect East Asia to the Mediterranean Sea.
GEO awarded $1,500 to each student and $500 to each of their mentors in order to complete these projects.The UROP summer fellowship allows students to design their own research projects related to their field of study.

“When students are able to explore in depth issues that have captured their interest, their educational experience in immeasurably enriched,” said R. McKenna Brown, Ph.D., Global Education Office executive director. “This fellowship enables undergraduates to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to real world situations. We are pleased that we can provide these opportunities on a global stage.”

Silk Road

Junior sculpture and extended media major, Ling-lin Ku, and her mentor, Ryan Crowley, assistant professor in the VCU School of the Arts, designed a research project entitled ‘Silk Road’. They traveled along the Silk Road—a network of trails and trading routes that connect East Asia to the Mediterranean Sea—for thirteen days before returning to the United States to create studio sculptures inspired by the trip.

“I want to further examine the cultural mosaic of the Silk Road in an effort to illuminate the heritage of its countries and identify the voices that represent these traditions today,” Ku wrote in her project abstract.

Ku and Crowley set out on the Silk Road on May 19, starting the three thousand mile voyage in Xian, China. The journey took them westward to the Yellow River, passing the Tibet Plateau, Qilian Mountain and Tian-Shan Mountain before finally entering Dunhung Desert to their final destination of Urumqi, Xingjian.

Upon her arrival back to the United States, Ku has begun designing three sculptures that reflect her journey. In addition she has enrolled in courses, such as hot glass, glass fabrication, metal welding and wood construction in order to learn the proper techniques to execute her sculpture designs and create diversity among her sculptures.
From researching the contemporary to the preserving the past

Senior art education major, Samantha Correa, and her mentor, Brittany Nelson, professor in the Photography and Film department in the VCU School of the Arts, initially proposed a project focused on the views of immigration to the United States by Hispanics in Peru. But in the small town of Chinchero, Peru, Correa met Marleny Callanuapa, a Peruvian artist who, as part of a women’s cooperative known as Awana Wasi, uses hand crafted looms and traditional Andean techniques to make “extremely saturated and vibrant garments.” After this meeting, the focus of Correa’s project quickly shifted to “exploring the community of artisanal weavers along with other Peruvian artists who have the same approach to spread awareness through their art.”

“I found that I was being drawn toward the historical maintenance of Peru rather than the appeal to the states,” Correa said in a progress report. “I now know that this project has gone from researching the contemporary to the preservation of the past.”

Throughout this semester, Correa will edit and develop photographs taken during her time in Peru as well as create a video to depict an “accurate visual representation of the artists and their processes.”


Senior information systems and religious studies double major, Siobhan Gray, and her mentor, Manoj Thomas, Ph.D., assistant professor in the VCU School of Business, designed a project entitled ‘Computers4Haiti’ which identifies “solutions that enable young Haitians access to a core set of educational content.” The plan seeks to develop a computer literacy curriculum that operates in the Haitian environment—which includes limited technological resources, electricity and internet infrastructure—while simultaneously teaching students basic computer skills.

“I had worked with Dr. Thomas on another project and was interested in doing something else with him as I am trying to figure out where I want to go in my field,” said Gray. To execute this project the two teamed up with Commonwealth Catholic Charities (CCC) in Richmond which provided the laptops that were used.

Together, Gray, Thomas, and CCC worked with more than 15 computers to identify the best operating system. After trial and error, the group settled on the Linux EdUbuntu system, since, according to Gray, it most efficiently supported their goals and the learning needs of the children.

“This has been a particular eye-opener for me as far as project management goes,” Gray said in a progress report. “The requirements of a project can often change and evolve while in progress, based on the needs of the parties involved. We want to make sure that the laptops have the features that will be of greatest use to our students in Haiti.”

Since completing the project over the summer, Gray has presented live working laptops to CCC and, throughout the semester, will continue to maintain and add the necessary software to them. Once CCC approves the configuration, Gray plans to test the software and user interface on each laptop and begin developing a computer literacy curriculum to be used in the Haitian schools. Ultimately, the team seeks to implement this solution in six different schools in the Central Hinche province of Haiti during the summer of 2015.

VCUarts accepting applications for undergraduate research grants!


Get $$ to support your ideas. Each year VCUarts gives talented students like you the opportunity to shine by offering grants to fund a creative project. Submit your application by November 1st.

Read some of the frequently asked questions about the Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Research Grants, or download the application at

For more information on requirements and past awards visit:

Undergraduate Research Positions with the Virginia Institute of Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics



Description of the research:

The goal of this study is to learn more about genetic and environmental factors that could influence the likelihood of someone developing an anxiety/mood disorder.  To help accomplish this, we are inviting parents and their twins, ages 9 to 13 years old, to participate in this study.

Description of Duties:

The research assistant would have a great deal of involvement in the day to day details of running a research study. Responsibilities may include the following:

  • Extensive participant interaction (administering an IQ test, collecting DNA samples, presenting behavioral and computer tasks)
  • Working with psychophysiological software and equipment (BIOPAC and E-Prime)
  • Early data monitoring/quality control

If the student matches well with this project, there is potential for publishing opportunities for posters and papers.

Required hours/week: 10 hours/week

Eligibility requirements:

  • GPA of 3.0 or higher required

  • Candidates must demonstrate an ability to learn quickly, work diligently, and interact in a professional and personable manner

The application can be found by visiting this link:

If interested, please complete this form and email it as an attachment to the study coordinator at


Undergrads learn flexibility in community-engaged research

UROP 2014-feature


The CCTR and the Division of Community Engagement fund undergraduate fellowships for community-engaged and translational research.

Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014

Early this summer, Eric Prince’s undergraduate research appeared to be going great. A Virginia Commonwealth University senior majoring in health, physical education and exercise science, Prince had just been awarded one of the university’s three undergraduate fellowships for community-engaged and translational research.

With financial backing for his research — a rarity for undergraduates — Prince was working with Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s Teaching, Encouragement, Exercise, Nutrition and Support (T.E.E.N.S) weight management program.

“We hoped to find whether or not the overhydration of fat-free mass (bone, muscle, minerals) returned to normal following the weight management program,” Prince said. “In adults, this overhydration of the fat-free mass typically remains the same following weight change, so a finding that differed in adolescents would be very important.”

Prince measured participants’ overall fitness at the beginning of the program and planned to measure again three months later, but at the three-month mark he noticed something unexpected: Many of the research participants weren’t coming back.

“I definitely felt frustration — frustration at the situation and frustration that the research wouldn’t be completed,” Prince said.

Despite the presumed setback, Herb Hill, director of VCU’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, said Prince was in exactly the right situation.

“When we talk about success with a student research project, we’re not talking about whether students got the results they expected or whether they got from point A to point B without any problems,” Hill said. “For a student at the undergraduate level to have an opportunity to engage with challenges and have to adapt as obstacles present themselves is really what these fellowships are all about.”

The VCU UROP hosts dozens of fellowships and provides various undergraduate research resources throughout the year. Prince was one of three students this summer to receive the program’s first-ever undergraduate fellowships for community-engaged and translational research, which were funded by the VCU Division of Community Engagement and the VCU Center for Clinical and Translational Research.

Ardilla Deneys, a senior interior design major and fellowship recipient, worked on a project that empowered youth in the communities surrounding Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom neighborhood to propose garden design ideas to Mayor Dwight Jones, who planned to redevelop the important historical area.

Deneys’ faculty mentor is Susan Borden-Deren, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, VCU College of Humanities and Sciences.

Susan Ghodrat, a senior majoring in nursing, is also one of this year’s recipients. In working with faculty adviser Jo Lynne Robins, Ph.D., assistant professor in the VCU School of Nursing, Ghodrat concentrated on baseline data from a community-based sample of 96 women with increased cardiovascular disease risk.

She analyzed the relationship between mindfulness (of one’s own body and health) and several biobehavioral factors including perceived stress, depressive symptoms, fatigue, lifestyle, weight, blood pressure, C-reactive protein, fasting glucose and insulin. She found that practices to increase mindfulness such as yoga, tai-chi and deep breathing may help decrease perceived stress, depressive symptoms and fatigue, which may help improve health outcomes in women.

“In supporting this collaboration of diverse expertise drawn from within the university and from the communities we serve, we’re enabling these young scholars to explore pathways to advancing discoveries into wide-ranging treatments for people in Richmond and beyond,” said John N. Clore, M.D., associate vice president for clinical research at VCU and founding director of the CCTR.

“The community engagement aspect of this fellowship appealed to certain types of students, and you see a lot of these types of students at VCU who are community-engaged and community-minded.” Hill said. “These are the types of students who are going to be doing this type of research for the rest of their lives, you can just tell.”

Before a lifetime of research, though, there are lessons to be learned.

“My initial thoughts about research were: If you planned everything out enough in the beginning, you would encounter no problems along the way,” Prince said. “This was definitely not the case. Some things are just outside of your control.”

And the point is to face the challenges rather than to give up, so with the help of his faculty mentor, Ronald Evans, Ph.D., director of VCU’s Health and Human Performance Lab, Prince is pressing on.

“Because of the roadblocks we’ve encountered, we’ve had to take a step back and look at the data as a whole,” he said. “We are still in the process of changing research direction. It’ll be a process over this next semester but I definitely look forward to it as we figure out where to go from here.”


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“Preparing for Undergraduate Research” Info Session

urop-mainThe VCU Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) will host the next info session for undergraduate students entitled, “Preparing for Undergraduate Research” on September 17, 2014.  The session is scheduled for 3pm in the Academic Learning Commons, room 1105.

The session will provide information about upcoming opportunities for research at VCU, and will help interested undergraduates prepare themselves for a research experience.   In order to participate, students must register first by contacting Herb Hill at at least 24 hours before each session.

For more information about undergraduate research at VCU, visit us at:

Council on Undergraduate Research : Travel Awards for Biology and Social Science Majors



Social Science Division Student travel awards 

The Social Science Division of the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) is offering a limited number of travel grants, up to $200 each, for undergraduate students presenting the results of research that they have conducted at a regional or national, discipline-specific meeting during the academic year 2014-2015. Award recipients are required to acknowledge CUR for support of their travel in their talk or poster. After the meeting, a brief report about the experience is expected. Minority students are encouraged to apply. 

Social Science majors apply HERE!

Biology Division Student Travel Awards announcement 

The Biology Division of the Council on Undergraduate Research is offering a limited number of travel grants, up to $250 each, for undergraduate students presenting original research results at a regional or national, discipline-specific meeting during the fiscal year 2014-2015. Award recipients are required to acknowledge CUR for support of their travel in their talk or poster, to complete a short evaluation form about their meeting experience and to submit a PDF file of their poster. Minority students are encouraged to apply. 

Biology Majors Apply HERE!

Deadline: Applications for a travel grant to a fall 2014 or spring 2015 meeting are now being accepted. Award decisions will be made on a first come, first served basis. 

Call for Submissions – Posters on the Hill 2015



Application Period: Sept. 2-Nov. 5, 2014

In the spring of 2015, the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) will host its 19th Annual Posters on the Hill.  There will be an evening poster session and reception where students will have the opportunity to speak directly to members of Congress and demonstrate how they have been impacted by these programs.

As the undergraduate research community works to ensure that those in the U.S. Congress have a clear understanding of the research and education programs they fund, nothing more effectively demonstrates the value of undergraduate research than a student participant’s words, work, and stories. Undergraduate research must be among the programs that members of Congress understand if it is to continue to be supported, and to grow.

Students and their faculty mentors are invited to apply for the Council on Undergraduate Research’s (CUR) 19th annual undergraduate poster session on Capitol Hill. In addition to other events, there will be an evening poster session and reception where students will have the opportunity to speak directly to members of Congress and demonstrate how they have been impacted by these programs.

Please visit the website for more information about the submission process and Posters on the Hill program. Questions? Please contact Mary Pat Twomey, Manager for Student Programs, at