Published: March 27, 2024 By

Researchers in astronomy, physics, and math

A group of seven physics students, staff, and faculty were recently awarded funding from the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Innovation Fund for their proposal to improve undergraduate research for underrepresented and minority groups in STEM disciplines. The grant will support two key initiatives including an undergraduate research expo and a research fellowship fund.

This is the second year of the Dean’s Innovation Fund, initiated by Dean Glen Krutz. The Dean’s request for proposals focused on several strategic priorities including cross-disciplinary projects, supporting justice, equity, diversity and inclusion efforts, and improving retention. Eight projects were awarded funding this year and Dean Krutz noted they received an “overwhelming response, with applications from across the college.”

The innovative group receiving the award from physics is comprised of student leaders from several departmental student groups, staff, and faculty: 

  • Maeve Anderson, graduate student, CU-Prime organizer
  • Aaron Barrios, undergraduate student, president of COSMOS
  • Luke Coffman, undergraduate student, Society of Physics Students co-president
  • Owen Grimes, undergraduate student, Society of Physics Students co-president
  • Tyler McMaken, graduate student, CU-Prime organizer
  • Michael Schefferstein, physics lab coordinator
  • Bethany Wilcox, assistant professor of physics 

Addressing barriers to undergraduate research for students from underrepresented groups is the central focus for this grant. By providing community building, connections to research opportunities, and funding for a research fellowship, the group hopes this support will help students from all backgrounds engage in undergraduate research. 

The Undergraduate Research Expo will be held on Saturday, April 20, 2024, in UMC 235 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and will feature a poster session and a keynote address from Nobel Laureate and professor adjoint of physics, Eric Cornell. The expo will include researchers from several departments including physics, astrophysical and planetary sciences, and mathematics. Researchers are invited to apply to present a poster at this event by April 5.  

Aaron Barrios, an undergraduate majoring in physics, math, and astrophysics, and president of COSMOS, has experienced the difficulties in obtaining research as an undergraduate student. He hopes this initiative will be transformative for other students. “I believe this event will help underrepresented and minority students start their research journey earlier, give undergraduates an accessible opportunity to present their research, and highlight the amazing research conducted in the physics, astrophysical and planetary sciences, and math departments.” 

After building connections at the Undergraduate Research Expo, students will be invited to apply for research fellowships that will provide funding for their research experience. Students are sometimes faced with a choice between maintaining a job or engaging in research. By providing funding, students will have more time and financial flexibility to pursue research interests.

Tobin Munsat, professor and chair of physics, said “I’m thrilled to see this proposal funded by Dean Krutz. The team leading this effort has an incredible drive to improve access for undergraduate research that will greatly benefit our students.”

Barrios added, “Our group is immensely grateful to Dean Krutz for supporting this and many other initiatives and we hope this event and support for access to undergraduate research will be continued for years to come.”

View the College of Arts and Sciences announcement for more information on all Arts & Sciences Dean’s Innovation Fund projects receiving funding this year.