The program began this fall with its first 100 participants.
Texas Tech University freshmen interested in undergraduate research have a new opportunity available to them this fall thanks to the brand new Program in Inquiry and Investigative Thinking (Pi2).
The program's 100 incoming freshmen for fall 2017 were chosen in the spring through an application process. Based on their intended majors and essays, the students were divided equally into five cohorts:
- Arts, archaeology, cultures, music and social sciences (13 things), mentored by Christopher Witmore, an associate professor of archaeology and classics in the Department of Classical & Modern Languages & Literatures
- Engineering and process sciences: Meeting humanity's challenges in the 21st century, mentored by Theodore F. Wiesner, an associate professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering
- Mathematical and physical sciences, mentored by David Lamp, an associate professor of physics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy
- Health and environmental sciences: How to address human health concerns in an interconnected age, mentored by Allie Smith, an assistant professor in the Honors College
- Genetics, molecular biology and natural sciences: Life sciences in the 21st century, mentored by Lou Densmore, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and associate director for undergraduate research in the Center for the Integration of STEM Education & Research (CISER)
Pi2 scholars will remain in their respective cohort throughout the first year and advance in their first summer or second year into faculty research laboratories, where they may continue through their senior year.
"The intent of this program is to provide incoming freshmen a chance to engage in the research and scholarly enterprise at the university," said Michael San Francisco, dean of the Honors College and organizer of the program. "From my experience in the Honors College over the last three-and-a-half years, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)-funded undergraduate research scholars program over the past 25 years, I see there is a strong undercurrent of curiosity in the student body to learn more and to learn and think differently from the classroom. This program will help promote research awareness and allow students to engage with their faculty in ways they have not had an opportunity before."
While Texas Tech students already had the opportunity to get involved in undergraduate research through HHMI and the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program in the Honors College, the big difference with Pi2 is the stage at which students get involved.
"Texas Tech has always supported undergraduate research; HHMI has over the years served hundreds of students who have used the experience to make their professional lives more wholesome," San Francisco said. "The advantage of Pi2 is that it embraces undergraduates in their freshman year and gives them the background and fundamentals about doing research and also allows them to network with the faculty and other resources on campus to develop as intellectuals and problem-solvers for the future."
"An important aspect of the student educational experience is enhanced by fostering an environment that encourages personal connections to faculty and hands-on research opportunities," said President Lawrence Schovanec. "Students should have those opportunities early in their college career, and this program is designed to provide those experiences."
San Francisco noted numerous benefits students can receive through involvement in undergraduate research.
"Working with faculty and other researchers in a given field provides an opportunity for our students to be at the forefront of knowledge generation, to understand how information from the past can be reviewed, how data are analyzed, how experiments are designed, how to formulate hypotheses and how to discuss observations and contextualize them," he said.
"Research also provides an opportunity to travel and present the work to different audiences within and outside the campus. This also helps with networking and building bridges for the future. Those individuals who partake in productive, long-term research relationships may have authorship on manuscripts and gain a positive impact on applications for jobs and professional programs. Participating in research as an undergraduate also provides an impetus for improved classroom performance and sets students up for applications for national and international scholarships and fellowships."
The program will accept 100 new freshmen each year. The students are placed in their cohorts by Lori Lightfoot, a lead administrator in the Honors College, and will belong to a larger group of undergraduate research scholars at the university under the wing of Julie Isom, associate director for undergraduate research in CISER.
"These scholars will be placed across the breadth of disciplines around the university, have access to the finest minds and work at the cutting edge of their disciplines," San Francisco emphasized. "This is a great opportunity for the future."
More information about Pi2 can be found on its website.