By Published: Dec. 2, 2016

Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program takes initiative to expand pool of students receiving awards

Laboratory culture is such a deeply ingrained aspect of most STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—disciplines that the image of a white-coated lab researcher is an icon of American media and entertainment.

But there’s a reason you aren’t likely to see a Hollywood blockbuster featuring a laboratory dedicated to, say, American literature, philosophy, Italian languages or any other arts and humanities discipline: For the most part, researchers in those disciplines work as individuals, and not on laboratory teams.

This fact has posed a challenge to CU Boulder’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), which provides funding opportunities for undergraduate students to conduct research while working with faculty in their fields of study.

Tim O'Neil

Tim O'Neil

“We’ve noticed over the years that students in the arts and humanities are underrepresented in the UROP applicant pool, and, ultimately, in receiving awards,” says Tim O’Neil, assistant director of Special Undergraduate Enrichment Programs (SUEP), which oversees UROP.

“STEM has a laboratory culture and collaborative team structure that allows novice students to stair-step their way into competencies, significant contributions and collaborations with individual researchers,” O’Neil says. “Because it’s part of the culture, (STEM) students can see those pathways more clearly.”

But because research in the arts and humanities tends to be more individualized, students in those fields are less aware of research opportunities—or of UROP.

With that in mind, UROP recently launched an effort to encourage increased participation among arts and humanities undergraduates by providing departmental development grants of up to $4,000 to faculty.

The UROP program gave me an amazing opportunity… to engage in rigorous scholarly research in a way that I never could have without it, and has done a great deal to prepare me for graduate studies.”

“This is to develop the kinds of programs that will foster discussion and help create a culture within departments,” O’Neil says.  

The program also provides support to faculty for attending undergraduate research conferences as well as funding for students. SUEP  will also host an undergraduate-research best-practices colloquium during the 2017 fall semester for faculty and students.

“Conducting research really has the potential to open students’ eyes to what they are doing as undergraduates,” O’Neil says. “It also serves a pragmatic function for students planning to go to graduate or professional school. It’s a wonderful process of self-discovery for students.”

Collaborative research opportunities also help students hone critical-thinking skills, ethical standards, the ability to locate and evaluate information and develop complex arguments.

Nicholas Zyzda

Nicholas Zyzda

Germanic studies and classics major Nicholas Zyzda couldn’t agree more. After learning about UROP through a friend, Zyzda applied for and received an individual grant, which allowed him to team with Arne Höcker, assistant professor of Germanic and Slavic languages and literature, last summer.

Their partnership resulted in a paper titled, “Madness and Science in Georg Buchner’s Lenz.” Zyzda says he got to live the life of a research academic, an experience that “gave me insight into choosing a PhD as a potential career path.”

“The UROP program gave me an amazing opportunity… to engage in rigorous scholarly research in a way that I never could have without it, and has done a great deal to prepare me for graduate studies,” he says.

Applications for summer 2017 UROP grants open in November and will be due in February. To learn more, go to