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person performing research in a lab
Aniqua Mehdi is working on a project related to the recent ban of certain sunscreens in Hawaiʻi due to their harmful chemicals. (Photo courtesy: Aniqua Mehdi)

Research opportunities are not just for faculty and graduate students. Undergraduate students at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa can get funding for research and creative work (fulfills undergraduate institutional learning objectives) early in their academic careers. A new opportunity provides motivated early-career undergraduate students with up to $3,000 in scholarship funding.

Launched by the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) in fall 2022, Entering Research and Creative Work (ERC) funding allows students to experience research and creative work without having to write a full project proposal. Awardees receive a stipend of $1,500 for one semester or $3,000 for two semesters. Like all of UROP’s funding opportunities, ERC funding requires the mentorship of a UH Mānoa faculty member. ERC students who want to continue with research and creative work after completing their ERC experience will be better prepared for success, including securing additional funding from UROP such as project funding and presentation funding.

The ERC application cycle is open for spring 2023 (students would be able to receive their stipend funding at the beginning of summer 2023 or fall 2023) and the deadline to apply is April 20, 2023, 5 p.m. HST.

ERC funded research

person sitting in front of a computer
Pearl Thompson received ERC funding in spring 2023. (Photo courtesy: Pearl Thompson)

Pearl Thompson, a sophomore majoring in marine biology, received ERC funding in spring 2023 to work on a project that aims to describe Hawaiian monk seal underwater acoustic communication using passive acoustic recorders. The work involves detecting and classifying monk seal vocalizations (e.g. whoops, growls) recorded at French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands where the majority of the remaining 1,500 seals live. Thompson’s mentors are Lars Bejder, director of the Marine Mammal Research Program in the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology, and PhD candidate Kirby Parnell.

“Participating in ERC will impact my future plans as it will provide insight as to what working in my field of interest is really like,” Thompson said. “This is a valuable opportunity in which I am able to experience a taste of the life path I plan to follow. Working with people that are experts in my field of interest has helped me learn a lot about this career path which has been truly invaluable.”

Another spring 2023 ERC recipient, Aniqua Mehdi, a freshman majoring in biochemistry is working on a project related to the recent ban of certain sunscreens in Hawaiʻi due to their harmful chemicals. Mehdi’s project involves quantifying the occurrence of organic ultraviolet filters at beaches along Oʻahu’s south shore to better understand the impact chemicals used in sunscreen have on the reef environment. Mehdi’s mentor is Professor Philip G. Williams from the Department of Chemistry.

“I want to do research of my own in the future and even as a career, and because of ERC I can experience it early on in my professional career and gain valuable experiences that will make me a better researcher,” Mehdi said. “Through ERC, I received a stipend to help with a research project and I don’t have to take on additional jobs that I am not particularly interested in, and can focus instead on building skills needed for my interests and my future career.”

Collaboration expands research and creative work opportunities

monk seal sleeping on a beach
Hawaiian monk seal (Photo credit: Fabien Vivier)

ERC is the result of a collaboration between UROP and the UH Mānoa Office of Enrollment Management. With $100,000 in Mānoa tuition scholarship funds, UROP worked over summer 2022 to set up this new opportunity and promoted it widely on campus. In fall 2022, UROP received 30 applications requesting a total of $76,500 in ERC funding. UROP decided to fund 22 complete applications for a total of $55,000.

“Undergraduate research and creative work is a cornerstone of the Mānoa experience. Nowhere else in the world can an undergraduate student find access to a research and creative work experience at a public, Research 1 university committed to becoming a Native Hawaiian Place of Learning,” UH Mānoa Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Nikki Chun said. “We rely on our students to make the most of their research and creative experiences and become pioneers in their disciplines.”

UROP Assistant Director Seung Yang added, “We are very pleased with the number of interested students given the novelty of the opportunity, and the fact that most students and faculty on campus are just becoming aware of its existence. We are very much looking forward to supporting more students to experience faculty-mentored research and creative work in the coming years.”

Through ERC funding, UROP aims to increase undergraduate participation in faculty-mentored research and creative work to increase student satisfaction, enrich their academic experience and prepare them for a lifetime of professional work. Both nationally and on the UH Mānoa campus, undergraduate students who participate in faculty-mentored research and creative work are more likely to stay in school and graduate in a timely manner.

For more information, visit UROP’s website or email with questions. UROP will offer this opportunity every fall and spring semester.

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