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Undergrads make an impact through research projects

April 16, 2010

Social work experts recently asked Bianca Altamirano about her research in teen dating violence, but the frequency of one particular question at a national conference particularly surprised her.

“Almost every researcher and student whom I met said, ‘You’re an undergrad? I thought you were a Ph.D. student,’ because they didn’t understand how an undergrad could get an opportunity to do such important research,” says Altamirano, who will earn a Bachelor of Social Work in May.

She’s working closely with Lela Williams, assistant professor, on a research project focusing on violence in dating relationships among Mexican American youth. The results will serve as the basis for prevention and treatment interventions for Hispanic teens.

Altamirano is among 33 undergrad researchers at ASU’s College of Public Programs who play important roles in faculty research in areas such as criminal justice, public affairs, health disparities, and tourism.

The college is among numerous ASU schools and colleges that offer undergrads the chance to work with faculty members on a faculty research project each semester.

Other academic units that currently offer formal undergrad research programs include the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, W.P. Carey School of Business, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the College of Teacher Education and Leadership, and the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering.

At the College of Public Programs, upon recommendation of a faculty member, students can work up to 10 hours a week with a professor during their undergraduate education. For the first semester, they get a $500 scholarship from the dean’s office. They receive a $1,000 scholarship for the second semester and a $1,500 scholarship for the following semesters.

More than 65 students have been involved in undergrad research projects with faculty at the college since the program began in Fall 2006.

Students from various disciplines often work together on projects, providing different perspectives and adding layers of depth to the work, says Williams. For example, Altamirano has been working with students from the fields of social work, criminology and criminal justice, and parks and recreation.

When Altamirano first came to the School of Social Work, she planned to study direct practice in order to “change people’s lives one at a time,” she says. “But when I started doing research, learning the different types of interventions  and programs that are developed using research results, I realized I want to work in that area.”

Williams says the undergrad researchers have greatly sped along her progress on the project, while offering the students a chance to put their knowledge into practice.

“When most students think of research, they think it’s boring and you’re stuck in your office all day,” Williams says. “This breaks down the stereotypes they have about research by allowing them to experience the excitement of making discoveries and breaking new ground.”

For information about undergrad research projects at the college, contact Dana Newell at (602) 496-0416.