'Ambassadors' seek to connect undergrads to research opportunities

By April Hunt | Emory Report | Oct. 12, 2017

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Emory undergraduates have unparalleled access to conduct research with top faculty. The redesigned Research Ambassadors program, launching this month, enlists students to help connect their peers to research opportunities.

Undergraduates at Emory College of Arts & Science have unparalleled opportunities for hands-on research with some of the top faculty in their field. But how to connect?

This year, a reimagined Research Ambassador program will make it clear. Beyond talking about their own research work at Emory, student ambassadors will provide one-on-one advising to fellow undergraduates looking to do research in any discipline.

“Emory was my choice for a lot of reasons, but most of all because it offers a research-infused, liberal arts education,” says Olivia Fogel, a junior majoring in business and interdisciplinary studies who will serve as one of nine ambassadors.

“I’m one of the people who has benefitted from the research opportunities at Emory. I want others to know they can, too,” she adds.

Undergraduate Research Programs launched Research Ambassadors last year in a bid to promote the outstanding work students were doing with faculty mentors.

Some had worked in the natural sciences, as junior Kenny Igarza did in neurotoxicologist Gary Miller’s lab that seeks to understand the biomolecular underpinnings of Parkinson’s disease.

Others came from the humanities and social sciences, or crossed disciplines as Fogel did, working with a Goizueta Business School mentor to meld research in psychology and business to understand organizational management.

Brainstorming with those ambassadors, Folashade Alao, Undergraduate Research Programs director, says she realized the students could serve as a resource far beyond formal presentations or campus fairs.

The students themselves could show how to get connected with faculty looking for undergraduate researchers — and give tips on the right way to send emails and even research the research, so they were the best candidates.

That led to the one-on-one model, which starts this month. Those interested can sign up using ASST, and can repeat sessions with ambassadors as they make their way to finding a research opportunity that fits.

The advising sessions will be held in the Woodruff Library, Eagles Landing and other campus locations.

“We have to show them there are not only a number of research opportunities for undergraduates but the number of different ways they can pursue those opportunities,” Alao says.

Igarza says he benefitted from two orientation programs that helped funnel him towards an independent research program as a first-year student. The research he conducted on Parkinson’s disease altered his future plans.

He’s still double majoring in neurobiology and behavioral biology and international studies, with an eye on becoming a doctor. But now he wants to earn an MD/PhD, so he can have his own lab and eventually pursue a diplomatic career emphasizing science.

“Joining a research space is such a wonderful experience, and people may not realize the value it has on growing your academic and life skills,” Igarza says. “What better way to thank Emory for giving me this wonderful opportunity than to share it with as many other students as I can?”

Undergraduate Research Programs began training ambassadors last year on techniques to support would-be researchers. More ambassadors were added this year, to allow for the individual appointments.

This fall, the ambassadors are also receiving more training, on narrowing down their topic of interest and how to advise students in for example, the sciences, if the ambassador’s background is in the humanities, says Rachel Diamond, who was hired this fall as the new assistant director of Undergraduate Research Programs.

Says Diamond, “Students who are faced with, ‘I really want to do research, but I have no idea where to start,’ can start here.”