UNT offers learning, research and mentorship opportunities to engage undergraduate students in creative inquiry.
Text by: AMANDA FULLER
Photography by: MICHAEL CLEMENTS
Undergraduate students aren’t just welcome in UNT’s research community — they’re a part of its foundation. UNT’s journey to becoming a Tier One research university was guided by the kinds of innovative and diverse ideas that can only come from an equally diverse group of researchers. From the first day of class, dedicated faculty mentors engage students in rigorous and creative modes of inquiry, inspiring them to solve real-world problems.
“Hands-on experiential learning has been shown to cement the learning process far beyond the basic classroom lecture,” Pamela Padilla, associate vice president for research and innovation, says. “And experiential learning ignites a passion for the discipline and career path that is unparalleled in impact. If you want to grow the scholars of the future then we must give them a hands-on experience today.”
UNT leads the state in Goldwater Scholars, one of the most prestigious honors for students pursuing careers in math, science and engineering — a total of 66 since 1996. Kevin Yao and Christopher Zhou, students from UNT’s Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, were named 2020 scholars. Yao, who conducted research with physics professor Jose Perez, has a patent pending for his independent research on machine learning for cancer-prediction applications. And Zhou, who conducted research in the lab of Thomas Cundari, Regents Professor chemistry, used computational chemistry and artificial intelligence algorithms to help design novel transition metal catalysts, building blocks for the future of alternative energy sources.
UNT also boasts a number of research fellowships and grant-supported programs dedicated solely to undergraduate students, including the Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program and the McNair Scholars Program, which provides research opportunities for first-generation college students from low-income families or members of underrepresented groups who plan to pursue a Ph.D. Students from across disciplines participate in research with faculty mentors. Their interests are as diverse as our student body, with projects ranging from kinesiology senior Stephanie Gonzalez’s research on virtual reality exercise for physical and mental health promotion in college students during the COVID-19 pandemic, to psychology senior Madison Card’s research into how formal dance training influences a person’s cognitive ability and thus, informs methods of treatment.
The UNT PHAGES program, under the direction of associate professor of microbiology Lee Hughes, offers freshmen a chance to start building their research skills and portfolios early in their academic careers, making them better candidates for internships, graduate programs and other professional opportunities.
During the summer, senior researchers across disciplines host highly competitive National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates. Participants gain experience in research and academic writing and they build lasting relationships with their faculty and graduate student mentors.
“Undergraduate research teaches you to respect the efforts made by others to improve our understanding of complex matters and resolving issues we face as a society,” Card says. “The best part is the confidence and sense of direction I’ve gained.”