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Undergraduate researchers and mentors honored

Undergraduate research at the University of Utah shined bright and was celebrated, as the future leaders and innovators of tomorrow and their mentors were honored at the Office of Undergraduate Research Awards, held on April 1, 2024, in the Union Building Ballroom.

Each year, the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) recognizes U students and mentors with several awards, including the Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award, the Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award and presents certificates to scholarship recipients.

OUR states the event “fosters a healthy research culture as one that includes recognition.”

“This event is spectacular this year,” said Dr. Annie Fukushima, associate dean of Undergraduate Studies and director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, who gave the opening remarks at the awards ceremony. “Undergraduate research is a public good. What our students do to foster research in their collaborations—whether it’s a research team of one or many—is that they are furthering knowledge and supporting the university’s mission as well as having an impact on society, changing people’s lives.”

Dr. Mitzi Montoya, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, gave words of inspiration to attendees, saying undergraduate research at the U is an experience unlike students will find at other institutions.

“For our students, this is what makes it different to be at one of America’s leading research universities in the country,” Montoya said. “Congratulations to you for your engagement in research. I hope that it’s piqued for you what will be a lifelong love of problem-solving and question-asking and answering which never does anything but lead to more questions.”

Dr. Erin Rothwell, vice president for research, also spoke at the event and took time to acknowledge the mentors who teach and help make their students better researchers. Rothwell stated the educational experiences mentors are creating with their mentees are not only helping with retention, they are improving their students’ future and time to graduation.

“(Undergraduate research) strengthens written and oral communication. It strengthens critical thinking, technical skills and information literacy,” said Rothwell. “The results that are demonstrated even by novice researchers who engage in at least two semesters of undergraduate research are more likely to graduate in less time, more likely to go to grad school and significantly more likely to graduate from grad school.”

Awards and scholarships

The 2024 Monson Prize Award, presented to an undergraduate who writes an outstanding paper on a subject having to do with social change, was awarded to Pablo Cruz-Ayala, whose paper submitted is titled “Non-Objective and Subject Matter Dependent Visual Stimulus in Artwork: Investigating Accessible Art Therapies for Vulnerable Populations.”

Cruz-Ayala’s study “investigates the impact of art-based interventions on heart rate variability (HRV) and emotional regulation among undocumented immigrant populations,” according to OUR’s website. Professor John Erickson (College of Fine Arts) served as Cruz-Ayala’s faculty mentor.

Several other scholarships were awarded at the event. The Francis Endowment Fund recognizes outstanding undergraduate researchers in the arts, social sciences, and the humanities. The Lawrence T. Dee and Janet T. Dee Foundation was established by Lawrence Taylor and Janet Teller Dee in 1971 to promote charitable activities in Ogden and the surrounding area. The Parent Fund is sustained by parents and supports student-centered programs and initiatives. More information on all three scholarships, including eligibility requirements and lists of previous winners, can be found on OUR’s website.

A full list of this year’s honorees can be found here.

Click here to watch a recording of the awards ceremony.