More than 100 Occidental students spent 10 weeks on campus this summer, participating in funded, full-time research alongside faculty mentors through the annual Summer Research Program (SRP).

From tracking bumblebee species regeneration in areas ravaged by Southern California fires to analyzing educational integration strategies for immigrants and the Native American environmental ethos, young Oxy researchers have been busy this summer.

On July 31, students presented the fruits of their scholarly labor at the annual Summer Research Conference, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. Students representing 24 different majors have been working closely with 64 faculty mentors this summer on focused research of their choosing, both on campus and in Los Angeles.

“This conference is a wonderful opportunity for our students to show the public what they've accomplished,” says Janet Morris, director of the URC. “We believe that disseminating results is part of the research, and it's a terrific first opportunity for students to present their work in familiar, friendly circumstances.”

At the daylong conference, students presented their research as 20-minute talks and poster presentations on topics including “Biomass and Influencing Factors for Six Macroinvertebrates of the Southern California Rocky Reefs,” “Street Art, Gentrification and the Construction of Authenticity in Urban Spaces,” “Bracketing Extension of the Pioneer Metamorphic Core Complex” and “Energy spectra of turbulent Rayleigh-Benard convection.”

In addition to the 111 SRP participants, 10 students representing the Richter Research Abroad program and the Urban & Environmental Policy Department’s Affordable Housing program also presented research. 

To honor the milestone, remarks were given by Wendy Sternberg, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College, and Professor of Chemistry Chris Craney, founding director of Occidental’s Undergraduate Research Center (URC).

The URC, formally established in 1988, distributes grant funding to qualified students, regardless of major or discipline. A highly selective cohort, SRP participants receive a $4,000 stipend as well as subsidized housing and meals on campus.

“The students live on campus and are paid to do research full-time, so instead of a summer job they have this really meaningful experience of working one-on-one with a faculty member,” Morris says. “We also offer the students trainings, workshops and other fun activities.”

Professor of Media Arts & Culture Brody Fox says that while a small liberal arts college like Oxy already has great opportunities for student-faculty mentorship, the URC experience is particularly meaningful.

“Rather than meeting with a student for 15 minutes in your office once a week, having 10 weeks in the summer to sit down, meet at length and really be able to go deep with a student about their project is a very different experience,” Fox says. “I think it’s one of the first times they get to really take ownership of a project. I think it’s transformative for the student, but also kind of regenerating for faculty as well.”

Some students get so passionate and involved in the research that they wind up being included as a co-author with their faculty mentor in a peer-reviewed journal article, which is quite impressive for someone at the undergraduate level.

Associate Professor of History Alexander Day emphasizes the extra focus possible for students during the summer.

“I feel that summer research is very important to the student experience at Oxy. Students get very busy during the semester doing many different things, and I think it’s important for students to be able to focus on one project for an extended period of time,” Day says.

Adds Morris, “Even if students don't plan on a career in academia, they're learning things that can be applied to any kind of employment. Every job has research, and every job involves presenting your own ideas to others.”

More than 100 Occidental students spent 10 weeks on campus this summer, participating in funded, full-time research alongside faculty mentors as part of the 2019 Summer Research Program. The culminating event was the July 31 Summer Research Conference, in which students presented their work to the public. Photos by Marc Campos.

The Summer Research Program is the URC’s biggest program and a unique way for undergraduates to work at a high level usually reserved for graduate students. The program is supported by the College’s operating budget, but also relies on endowments, grants, and gifts from alumni and friends of the program.

Occidental has supported undergraduate research for more than three decades in all campus disciplines, but SRP has helped place the College at the forefront of liberal arts colleges nationally. See the generous sponsors of this summer’s research program.