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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU's URGE program offers undergraduate students in-depth research opportunities

Undergraduate geology students in New Mexico State University's Department of Geological Sciences are getting a jumpstart in grant proposal writing and conducting in-depth, original research projects through the department's Undergraduate Research Geologic Experience.

URGE offers students the opportunity to work on funded research projects, receive credit for their work and gain experience to prepare themselves for graduate school or employment.

"Asking questions is just as important as finding answers," URGE director and Geological Sciences department head Nancy McMillan said. "URGE offers students knowledge that cannot be found in textbooks or through exams; it forces them to ask important questions."

Students begin the URGE program their freshman or sophomore year and are paired with a faculty mentor who, along with the program coordinator, will guide them through their two-to-three-year project. Students are able to choose their research area of interest.

"Most undergraduate research projects at other universities are often limited for time," McMillan said. "Having these long periods for students to work on these projects, they get a true flavor of what being a scientist is like and what they are trying to accomplish."

Students are required to write a project description during the first semester with input from their faculty mentor, attend weekly meetings with mentors, learn grant writing and undergo peer review as well as mentor other students.

Each semester, students write goals and review progress towards those goals mid-semester. The research project should culminate in a senior or honors thesis, presented at a national or regional meeting, or a manuscript submitted for publication.

"By the time students graduate, they will know how to conduct in-depth research, write grant proposals and possibly have work published," McMillan said.

Sophomore Lucas Middleton is one of four students currently in the URGE program. An avid caver, Middleton heard about the program while still enrolled in high school and was drawn to the opportunity to conduct research on a subject he is passionate about.

"In graduate school you have to conduct research," Middleton said. "Through this program you actually have up to four years to prepare for it and you know how to do it when you get there."

Middleton submitted a grant proposal to the New Mexico Geological Society earlier this year and has obtained funding to carry out research in the Pecos River valley on speleogenesis, which is determining the origin and development of caves.

"I'm hoping to start surveying and exploring caves with a research group soon to map faults and draft information," Middleton said. "These are opportunities I didn't think were possible for undergraduates."

Several options through URGE exist for undergraduate researchers. Some students choose to do research for credit. Others may receive payment through their mentor's research grant or through the Department of Geology's Wemlinger Fund. Students who complete the URGE program receive a research certificate at graduation.