The students were from a wide swath of disciplines and devotions, including marine biology, theater, mathematics, psychology, dance and computer science majors.
On a warm July morning, they donned heavy work gloves, sinking to their ankles in mud as they tended the native Hawaiian plant section at Lyon Arboretum.
The service project, which included lessons in caring for the ahupua‘a and dealing with invasive plant species, was an organized activity of SURE, UH Mānoa’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience.
“SURE has been amazing,” said Gemady Langfelder, a junior dietetics major. “I’ve met a lot of really cool people with similar interests, and I learned a lot about graduate admissions.”
SURE builds a sense of community and place for students engaged in research with the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.
“SURE helps students build other skills they may not necessarily get out of their specific research project,” said Jessie Chen, UROP program coordinator.
UROP students propose research and creative work projects under the guidance of faculty mentors.
They present their work at on-campus symposia, conferences and professional venues. Many are published in national research journals.
Langfelder’s research explored possible relationships between carotenoids in the skin and fruit and vegetable consumption. Another student recovered the genetics of endangered tree snails with DNA from old shells.
In other projects, undergrads examined Filipino perspectives on Japanese occupation during the Pacific War and adapted a Hawaiian legend into a children’s picture book.
Jessica Ramirez, a food science and human nutrition major, assessed the utility of diet quality scores for infants in Puerto Rico and Hawai‘i.
“My UROP experience was one of the best experiences I’ve had at the University of Hawai‘i,” she said.
Undergraduate research is a growing national trend. Studies show undergrads engaged in creative work and research outside the classroom are more satisfied with their college experience, more likely to stay in school, and more likely to graduate.
UROP improves student recruitment and retention, preparing UH Mānoa students to be engaged community members.
The Harold K. L. Castle Foundation generously supports the SURE and UROP programs.
“Making the student experience more relevant, and ensuring a connection with a committed faculty mentor, UROP contributes to the success of Hawai‘i’s emerging leaders,” said president & CEO Terrence George.
“When young people are engaged with pressing real-world challenges, the whole community benefits.”