JULY 29, 2021 — The UTSA Graduate School, Honors College and other colleges across the university have collaborated together to create the South Texas Interdisciplinary Research for Undergraduates Programs (STIR-UP).
The 10-week residential program is preparing UTSA students from underrepresented backgrounds for success in graduate programs by providing research opportunities.
STIR-UP welcomes sophomores from all disciplines, introducing them to hands-on team research and professional development. STIR-UP has also partnered with Citymester, a UTSA Honors College program that works with community partners to create experiential learning opportunities for students, to provide local career and research-related civic engagement opportunities. Students participate an average of 30 hours per week and receive free on-campus housing as well as a $3,000 stipend.
UTSA is piloting STIR-UP this summer with a cohort of six highly motivated undergraduate students entering their second year at UTSA. In the future, the program will expand in number and will accept undergraduate students outside of UTSA in an effort to increase preparedness of outstanding scholars from underrepresented backgrounds for UTSA’s graduate programs.
“Since UTSA is an HSI as well as an aspiring Hispanic thriving institution, it is imperative to prepare students from diverse backgrounds for graduate programs—especially in transdisciplinary research areas,” said Ambika Mathur, vice provost and dean of The UTSA Graduate School. “STIR-UP is designed to do exactly that. We are preparing a high-achieving group of talented undergraduate students to conduct research that crosses disciplinary boundaries.”
This year’s STIR-UP program focuses on the theme of water research, sustainability and policy. The versatility of this interdisciplinary theme allows students to engage with nationally renowned faculty from six different UTSA colleges, exploring multiple directions of research and labs.
STIR-UP student David Montoya Jr. is grateful for the faculty connections he’s made in the program.
“Although the program is a first of its kind at UTSA, the coordinators do an excellent job at providing a variety of unique outlooks of various careers and their pertinence in society,” Montoya said. “This opportunity means so much to me, and I aim to network with a professor relating to my environmental science degree to expand my skills with them or outside of UTSA.”
In addition to participating in UTSA research labs and attending field trips in the local area and around Texas, STIR-UP students will also learn about career opportunities from area employers.
Working with research and industry leaders allowed Adelite Hategeka, a STIR-UP student in civil engineering, to see research in a new light.
“Being in this program has reshaped and redefined my career goals. Working with professionals who display knowledge and passion for their fields motivated me to expand my academic objectives,” Hategeka said. “I now plan on getting a Ph.D. because the program empowered me to see it as a possibility. I hope to keep developing the tools that will further my professional growth toward my goals.”
Saugata Datta, a UTSA professor in the Department of Geological Sciences and director of the UTSA Institute for Water Research, Sustainability and Policy (IWRSP), is the faculty lead for STIR-UP. With years of experience leading his own summer research projects for undergraduate students, Datta is passionate about helping diverse undergraduate students develop their interest and involvement in research. He sees the program as the best way to engage students in research and show them what they can achieve.
“The core essence of research cannot be obtained unless you bring in students from diverse backgrounds. With STIR-UP, in one shot students get an appraisal of so many different directions of research, how to conduct research, and why researchers decided to go into their fields,” Datta explained. “The various research directions STIR-UP students are exposed to will incite new ideas, while hearing the many reasons researchers embarked on research will inspire STIR-UP students to pursue their own research in the future.”
Increasing undergraduate research expands experiential learning opportunities for students, which benefit student learning outcomes and career success. In this way, STIR-UP advances UTSA’s Classroom to Career Initiative as part of its 10-year strategic vision and mission on student success. STIR-UP is also poised to promote diversity in undergraduate research, supporting UTSA’s mission to serve Latino students and furthering the university’s goal to become a great public research institution.
“We hope these STIR-UP students will one day begin graduate school and ultimately become researchers who impact society on a local, national, and global level in their careers,” Mathur said. “They will change the face and demographics of diversity among researchers.”
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