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OURS program wins 2023 ASU President’s Award for Innovation


People standing onstage holding an award.
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December 08, 2023

Research experiences are critical for students as they gain valuable technical and career-readiness skills that set them apart in competitive job markets and graduate-level programs.

As online learning in higher education grows, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University continues to expand opportunities that meet the increased need for hands-on experiential learning. One such opportunity, the Online Undergraduate Research Scholars (OURS) programaddresses the challenge of providing quality research experiences to online students.

On Thursday, Dec. 7, the OURS program team was honored with the 2023 ASU President’s Award for Innovation for providing such research experiences to ASU Online students at scale.

The ASU President’s Award for Innovation recognizes ASU personnel demonstrating the university’s commitment to higher education through innovative projects, initiatives, services and techniques.

Ara Austin holding the President's Award for Innovation.

Ara Austin holds the President's Award for Innovation. Photo by Allison Connell

Ara Austin, the senior director of online engagement and strategic initiatives at The College and clinical associate professor in the School of Molecular Sciences, developed and currently leads the OURS program, which launched in the fall of 2021.

Throughout the program, students have engaged in research experiences across the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences disciplines.

In the 2022–23 academic year, 315 ASU Online students participated in one of 27 total OURS learning experiences, with participants' average age being 29.

In one learning experience, students studied the behavioral and molecular analysis of honeybees through web cameras, which allowed them to observe honeybee colonies and analyze important traits of self-organized and highly efficient societies.

This experience included an on-campus component in collaboration with the ASU Bee Lab Annex, near the Polytechnic campus.

“You can still be a part of a lab. You can still do the work without feeling that something is holding you back,” Chelsea Doop, an online biological sciences student who participated in the immersion experience, told ASU News earlier this year. “I am a single mom of two kids from the other side of the country and can still participate. That’s the coolest thing in the world.”

Another OURS experience allowed students to gain hands-on experience with an archival project in partnership with the Arizona Historical Society in Tempe.

Students who participated in this experience learned how to source information, built intensive research skills, and completed a project on the history of Arizona using archival data such as letters, photos, diaries, bills of sale and more.

The ACE Scholars Program, conducted entirely online, has given students the opportunity to explore a broad range of questions and complete research projects at the intersection of cancer biology and evolutionary theory. 

In April 2023, the OURS program hosted the first-ever OURS symposium, a virtual project symposium presented through Gather.town that allowed students at The College to present their research findings in a digital environment.

During the event, a panel of faculty, including Austin, hosted an event discussing the growth of online learning and the importance of putting effort and resources into online education.

Austin is committed to continuing to grow the program to serve more students each year. The program is made possible through support from dozens of faculty and staff throughout The College.

"The OURS program would not have been possible without the dedication of faculty, staff and graduate students and their desire to provide equal opportunities to online students; all credit should go to them," Austin said.

For more information on the OURS program, visit ours.thecollege.asu.edu.

OURS in the news:

Nov. 2023: Coast Guard service member, ASU grad ready for career transition into medical field

Nov. 2023: ASU Online grad sets sights on career in computational biochemical research

April 2023: Ready, camera, action: Bringing bee research to ASU Online students

Oct. 2022: History is happening today: Online undergraduate research program expands into humanities

Jan. 2022: 5 students awarded first Online Undergraduate Research Scholars program scholarships

Jan. 2022: Gain hands-on research experience through ASU Online’s OURS program

Sept. 2021: The College launches new Online Undergraduate Research Scholars program

Video courtesy The College

Top photo: Members of the Online Undergraduate Research Scholars (OURS) program accept the President's Award for Innovation during the 2023 President’s Awards ceremony, held Dec. 7 on ASU's Tempe campus. Photo by Tim Trumble

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