Twenty-five and Still Going Strong: An Inside Look at the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research

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Twenty-five and Still Going Strong: An Inside Look at the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research

It was an eye-opening undergraduate research made me feel like part of a larger community at UNH and someone more actively involved in my field as a music researcher. —Christopher Foss ’13

In 2009 freshman Christopher Foss had little idea that he would participate in undergraduate research at the University of New Hampshire. Play the bassoon, yes. Get involved in musical tutoring, yes. Do independent research related to his instrument, no—not until Associate Professor Robert Haskins advised him to apply for one of the new Research Experience and Apprenticeship Program (REAP) grants from the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research. Resident artist Janet Polk helped Foss write the successful application and supervised his research during the summer of 2010, when he studied sound changes produced by differently constructed bassoon reeds.  Foss continued his research under Polk’s guidance the following summer with the help of a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). While engaged in his research, he met an Italian bassoon reed maker who employed a methodology unknown to him, prompting Foss to apply for (and be awarded) an International Research Opportunities Program (IROP) grant to continue his study of bassoon reeds in Italy during the summer of 2012. There he hopes not only to add to his knowledge of reed-making, but also to visit the fields in France and Italy where the cane used to make bassoon reeds is grown.

During 2012 the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research celebrates its 25th anniversary of providing advice and funding for undergraduate students in all disciplines to pursue a period of research outside the classroom.

History and Development

The idea for a program at UNH devoted exclusively to undergraduate research surfaced in the mid-1980s, and in 1987 the university hired Dr. Donna Brown as the founding director of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). Brown drew from a handful of already existing examples at MIT, Caltech, and the University of Delaware to help structure the fledgling program. Brown and the director of the University Honors Program, Robert Mennel, envisioned an open, multi-disciplinary program for students of all academic disciplines and research interests in a university-wide setting of intellectual inquiry. “We wanted to create a climate where we could encourage as many students as possible to get involved in undergraduate research,” she said.

Over the years a variety of different awards have been created for students at different stages in their education wishing to pursue research at home or abroad. In spring of 1987 the first awards were given: five Undergraduate Research Awards (URAs) went to five students to conduct research during the academic year. The types of awards quickly expanded to include summer research: the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) for projects in the U.S. was created in 1988, the SURF Abroad in 1994, the International Research Opportunities Program (IROP) award in 1997, and most recently the Research Experience and Apprenticeship Program (REAP), the first summer research grant available to freshmen, in 2007. The Hamel Center also offers smaller awards for specific purposes and sponsors credit-bearing research courses (INCO 590 and 790).

The variety of awards available is reflected in the variety and locations of the research. SURF awards funded on-campus research for Amy Ma ’12, an occupational therapy major, for a comparative analysis of different treatments of hand injuries; and for physics major Daniel Foley ’12 to find an improved method of producing tips for scanning tunneling microscopes. REAPs have been awarded for investigations on campus into the science of cheese-making and into bibliographic information for an atlas of Ancient Rome. North of campus, a REAP award funded Emily Spognardi’s ’14 participation in a White Mountains research project investigating the use of radio telemetry to locate bears and martens. SURF Abroad and IROP awards have taken UNH undergraduates as far away as Russia, Belize, Ghana and Australia for a wide variety of research subjects, such as sustainable practices of an eco-resort, the role of antioxidants in the aging process, Russian-American collaboration on railroads, and determining the health of fish populations.

The student researchers themselves bring a variety of experiences with them. Adam Marquis ’12, a wildlife and conservation biology major, spent two years in the U.S. Army before enrolling as a non-traditional student at UNH. He used this experience in his SURF-funded research into the effects of stream and landscape characteristics on salamander populations in southern New Hampshire. “I feel,” he said, “as though the discipline and skills I learned while in the Army, especially learning to do things systematically, helped prepare me for field research.”


Copyright 2013, Jacqueline Cordell