The Sciences at Belmont University have a long history of supporting undergraduate research providing students the opportunity to hone skills critical for their professional development. For over 20 years, students have been able to conduct research during the academic year and enroll in a 10-week, 6-credit-hour Summer Scholars Research Program especially popular for rising seniors. In 2014, the need was recognized for a parallel program to support early-career undergraduates wanting to jump-start their research experience without taking on a six-credit-hour summer load; not to mention making research available to early career students provides valuable opportunities for career discernment and a rich context for learning that happens in the classroom.
In the fall of 2014, with support from the Provost’s office, seven volunteer faculty members from the College of Sciences and Mathematics (CSM) agreed to launch a six-week summer research program aimed at supporting rising sophomore and junior science majors. Participants would receive a stipend and a dorm room to participate in six weeks of full-time original research. That fall, the first Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURFs) program was advertised to students within CSM. As the SURFs program was envisioned to primarily support early-career students, it was decided the application process would not ask students to indicate their major, rather applicants were encouraged to choose research projects based on their own interests and were asked to compose a brief essay on why they were interested in research. That first year, sixteen students applied for the program and fifteen students ultimately conducted original research culminating in a small poster presentation on the last day of the program.
Over the years, SURFs has steadily grown to include more students and a broader slate of research projects. In the summer of 2016, faculty stipends were funded by the Provost’s office and, by the summer 2019, faculty from all four Departments in CSM mentored students as well as faculty from the College of Pharmacy and the Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business. By 2020, the program expanded further to include faculty from the College of Health Sciences. While only 16 students applied for the first SURFs program in 2014, 116 students applied for the 2021 SURFs program with 55 fellows being accepted.
In 2016, a select number of local high school students from Montgomery Bell Academy were invited to join ongoing research projects as part of a new Research Intensive Summer Experiences (RISE) program for high school students. In 2021, High school students from Ravenwoood and Brentwood High Schools joined students from MBA to participate in research and take a three-credit-hour course in statistics.
Over the history of the program, SURFs fellows have gone on to present their work at regional and national conferences, publish their research in peer-reviewed journals, and been accepted into prestigious graduate programs including Tufts, Harvard, Stanford, UNC Chapel Hill, Emory and Northwestern. Together, the Summer Scholars, SURFs, and RISE programs at Belmont University have strengthened a culture of experiential learning; a culture in which students expect the opportunity to engage in original, graduate-level research at an undergraduate pace. This culture is producing graduates recognized for problem solving and critical thinking skills sought after by both employers and graduate programs around the country.
The SURFs Program at Belmont University gratefully acknowledges support from
- Provost Office of Belmont University
- College of Sciences and Mathematics
- The Colleges of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and the Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business
- A generous gift from W. Ferrol and Becky Spence