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Website Streamlines Undergraduate Research Opportunities

jordan sawyerKNOXVILLE — When Jordan Sawyer came to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, as a freshman in the aerospace engineering program, he had no idea he would be conducting research side-by-side with a professor on the laser diagnostics of combustion processes.

"Being able to apply the knowledge learned in engineering courses to an actual project has been extremely rewarding," Sawyer said. "It helps me better comprehend the importance of what I'm learning in my course work."

Thanks to a revamped Office of Research website, UT Knoxville students will be able to more easily find undergraduate research opportunities like Sawyer's. The website,, will be launched during Research Week, March 26 through April 1, by including a database of past undergraduate research activities and a tool that will allow faculty to post future opportunities for students to apply online.

Students can search for paid and unpaid opportunities by college, faculty and department. Testimonials and feature articles will also be added to give undergraduates a more in-depth look at what their peers are doing.

Undergraduate research and creative achievement allows students to work directly with faculty mentors; learn about issues, methods and leaders in their chosen field; apply concepts from courses to real-world situations; further creative achievement; and sharpen critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Greg Reed, associate vice chancellor for research, notes how undergraduate research directly benefits the students.

"Educational research has shown that undergraduate students who get involved in faculty scholarship tend to be retained at a higher percentage, graduate in less time and their GPA goes up," Reed said. "When we inspire, instruct and give opportunities for undergraduate students to have a research experience, they then have confidence to seek and create the best new idea in whatever it is that they're working on. They become intellectual entrepreneurs."

While undergraduate research tends to focus on students, faculty members also gain from the experience. Zhili Zhang, an assistant professor in the mechanical, aerospace and biomedical engineering department who works with Sawyer, can attest to this.

"The attitudes of all undergraduate students working with me are among the best," Zhang said. "They are always ready to face challenges from all aspects."

Professors often develop mentoring relationships with their students, learn from them and are better equipped to write recommendation letters because they have interacted with students one-on-one.

Undergraduate research also gives students the opportunity to explore potential careers, enhance communication skills and ethical awareness, prepare for graduate or professional school, network with others who share similar interests and build confidence.

Undergraduate research can lead to opportunities, such as participation in the Exhibition of Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement (EURēCA), which takes place in the University Center on March 30 and 31, or publication in Pursuit: The Journal of Undergraduate Research at the University of Tennessee. Both venues give students an outlet to publicize and promote the effort they have put into research.

During Research Week, the Office of Research will give its first 500 Facebook friends a T-shirt. Find the link to its Facebook page at

Published March 21, 2011, 2:49 p.m.

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