News | 14 October 2021

College Scholars Program Exposes Students to Research Opportunities



The College Scholars Program held a kick-off event at the start of fall quarter to welcome new students. (Photos by Davis Goodman)

Micah Braly knew when he enrolled at UC Santa Cruz that he wanted to get involved in research. But he didn’t know how.

He was excited when after his first quarter at the university, he was invited to apply for the College Scholars Program, which helps first-year students explore undergraduate research opportunities.

Students in the program get to hear presentations from faculty members in a wide range of disciplines about their research. “This was a big way to understand how the college system works,” he said.

Braly is now a Koret Undergraduate Research Scholar studying yersinia bacteria in the lab run by Vicki Auerbuch Stone, professor of microbiology and environmental toxicology.

Soon, the opportunity Braly received may be extended to a wider audience, said Amanda M. Smith, the new faculty director of UC Santa Cruz Undergraduate Honors Programs, including the College Scholars Program.

While the current website for the College Scholars Program says the program is open to “highly prepared” frosh students, Smith, an assistant professor in literature, would like to change that to “highly motivated” students.

Regardless of the opportunities students may or may not have had before coming to UC Santa Cruz, those who are interested in research should have the chance to engage in deep inquiry, Smith said.

“I want them to start to think of themselves as part of the production of knowledge,” she said. “They’re not just in classes passively learning things, they’re participating in human thought and making new ideas and testing them.”

Currently, students may only enter the program two ways: they are either invited before their fall start on the basis of their grades and test scores, or they can apply for entrance, as Braly did, to begin the program in the spring. About 90 freshmen are enrolled in the program now.

This year, the theme of “integrity” will frame the first-year activities. For one of the fall activities, College Scholar students will be asked to contact professors and interview them about what integrity in research means to them.

Smith said she and the college provosts selected “integrity” as a theme because it seems so pertinent to the times. “Integrity literally means wholeness,” Smith said. “A lot of us don’t feel whole right now after everything we’ve endured over the last couple of years. How can we be whole in the midst of this chaos and uncertainty? How can we create conditions for those around us to feel whole, too?”

College Scholars will also be asked to reflect on what integrity means to them when it comes to the service-learning course they will complete during winter term. They will have to consider how best to work with a community organization in a limited time without using up too many resources, Smith said. Smith hopes a diverse group of students will be inspired to apply for the College Scholars Program in the future.

Abigail Eduardo Espinosa, a senior who participated her first year, said the program is worth the effort. A first-generation student now majoring in psychology and sociology, Espinosa said the program opened her eyes to how much research was going on at the university.

“I would definitely recommend it to students especially if they don’t have prior knowledge about research,” she said.

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