A Brief History of Undergraduate Research at UC

In the United States, there is an approximate 150-year culture of undergraduate students engaging with faculty for career-forwarding research experiences (Kinkead 2012). For most of this time, access to opportunity relied exclusively on student-faculty social connections typically not afforded to women, racial minorities, and people with disabilities. In 1969, MIT became the first in the US to develop a centralized program that matched students, including women and racialized minorities, with faculty research mentors for an apprenticeship-style research experience (Brehm 2000). Although MIT would be the only such program for more than a decade*, the development of the Council on Undergraduate Research in 1978 and federal funding via the 1981 National Science Foundation (NSF) Equal Opportunities Act would motivate others to replicate MIT’s model. By the mid-1990s, centralized programs intended to “broaden participation” in Undergraduate Research had become a “national trend” (Strassburger 1995). While 40+ years of Undergraduate Research programs have helped countless individuals access research who may not have otherwise, alarming underrepresentation remains (NCSES 2020).

UC Program Formation

Like many US institutions, UC has a long history of Undergraduate Research (UR) and a relatively short history of formalized pathways and programs intended to “broaden participation”. Although historical evidence of UC’s UR activity is difficult to find, records of mentorship between a Psychology Professor and Henry Charles Turner (1886-1891), UC’s first Black graduate, indicates UR likely emerged in the mid-to-late-1800s, as it did elsewhere in the United States (Abramson 2009). Over time, disciplinary disparities in research funding and disciplinary silos would interact to produce heterogeneity across colleges and departments in how undergraduate students accessed and experienced research. That is not to say that UR developed similarly across STEM fields or not at all in arts and humanities fields. For example, independent study has long existed in arts and humanities disciplines, and the Charles Phelps Taft Memorial fund (UC’s Taft Research Center since 2005) has been a source of funding for undergraduate humanities research projects for decades.

UC’s earliest UR programs emerged in the College of Medicine in the 1980s, with Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) programs occurring in multiple departments (Table 1). By the mid-1990s many departments allowed students to earn course credit for engaging in apprenticeship-style research, with the Chemistry department becoming the first (and only) department to require it of all majors. In the late 1990s-early 2000s, the Taft Research Center began offering the Undergraduate Enrichment Award (now the Summer Undergraduate Mentor-Mentee Award), the Office of Research began offering the Undergraduate Research Stipend (ended in 2020), the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Program had its inaugural year (1999), and UC was awarded federal funding to develop UC’s Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program (2003; Table 1). Investments in UR continued into the 2010s via the University Honors Program (UHP) Biomedical Research and Mentorship (RaMP) Program (2010), Criminal Justice UR Program (2012), Protégé (2013, engineering), and University Honors Program (UHP) Discover (2015, arts/humanities; Table 1).


Despite the attention and investments toward UR at UC and nationwide, the trend of a centralized Undergraduate Research office was previously unpopular at UC. In effect, centralized resources developed slowly compared to similar institutions (Lyle and Lamkin 2019). An early step toward a centralized office occurred in 2012, when Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies, Dr. Gisela Escoe, hired graduate student Heather Baker to coordinate an undergraduate conference and initiate a peer-to-peer research mentoring program. In 2014, Dr. Escoe elevated the position to a part-time (50%) staff Program Director position within the Division of Professional Practice and Experiential Learning (ProPEL). The program area was named the Office of Research, Scholarly Endeavor and Creative Practice (URSC) and Dr. Cory Christopher was hired to fill the role. From 2014-2016, Dr. Christopher tripled the size of the undergraduate research conference through a collaboration with the College of Allied Health Sciences, formalized the peer-to-peer mentorship program, and developed a menu of professional development workshops. 

After Dr. Christopher left UC in 2016, ProPEL and UC’s Career Development Center merged to form the Division of Experience-based Learning and Career Education (ELCE). Along with the merge, URSC was renamed the Undergraduate Research Program, and Dr. MK Lamkin (PhD, Biology) was hired as a Visiting Assistant Professor, Program Director of Undergraduate Research (75%) with a partial appointment in Biology (25%). In addition to sustaining existing programs, Dr. Lamkin was charged with developing a strategic plan for Undergraduate Research at UC. The plan they wrote emphasized cultivating a “university-wide culture of Undergraduate Research” through discipline-inclusive centralized programs and college-level collaborations to support “local” initiatives. After one year, Dr. Lamkin applied for the full-time position and, in Fall 2017, began their appointment as UC’s first Assistant Professor-Educator and Program Director of Undergraduate Research. From 2017-2022, they evolved existing programs and developed new ones. They ensured program stability through the COVID-19 pandemic, and they pursued scholarship in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to develop capacity to address policies and practices that, intended or not, perpetuate “underrepresentation” in research. 

Future of Equitable Access

As UC continues to grow and pursue national prominence as a research institution, it will be important to ensure equitable access to research training and advancement. UC’s Undergraduate Research program intends to support that effort by working with campus partners to develop curricular based pathways into research, to grow support for internally and externally funded Undergraduate Research programs, to increase widespread attention toward culturally responsive mentorship, and to create investment in software that allows matching, tracking, and program evaluation.

Table 1. Undergraduate Research Programs at UC. This list does not include short-term grant funded programs, e.g., NIH R-25 or NSF REU programs.
Year Established  Program  Participants Per Year  


Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program (SURF)

Various department-level SURF programs existed at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center (CCHMC) and UC’s College of Medicine through the 1990s. Program consolidation that began in the 2000s led to the joint CCHMC-UC SURF program that exists today.  




Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) 

In 2022, WISE became Undergraduates Pursuing Research in Science and Engineering (UPRISE) to be more gender inclusive




Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Scholars Program

Open to all majors




University Honors Program (UHP) Research and Mentorship Program (RaMP)

Open to all UHP students, Biomedical projects only




Criminal Justice Undergraduate Research Program

CJ majors only





Engineering majors only




University Honors Program (UHP) Discover

Open to all UHP students; Arts and Humanities projects only




School of Communication, Film, and Media Studies Undergraduate Research Program

Open to all majors



Literature Cited

Abramson, CI. 2009. A study in inspiration: Charles Henry Turner (1867-1923) and the investigation of insect behavior. Annual Review of Entomology, 54:343-359.

Boyd, MK and JL Wesemann. 2009. Broadening Participation in Undergraduate Research: Fostering Excellence and Enhancing the Impact. Council on Undergraduate Research, Washington, DC.

Brehm, D. 2000. MIT’s much-imitated UROP turns 30. MIT News, Cambridge, MA. https://news.mit.edu/2000/urop-0202

Kinkead, J. 2012. What’s in a name? A brief history of Undergraduate Research. Council on Undergraduate Research National Conference, Washington, DC. https://www.cur.org/assets/1/7/331Fall12KinkeadWeb.pdf

Lyle, NS and MK Lamkin. 2019. How UC’s Undergraduate Research Program Compares to those at Similar Institutions. Proceedings of the Undergraduate Scholarly Showcase. University of Cincinnati Press. Cincinnati, Ohio. 

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation. 2021. Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2020. NSF 22-300. Alexandria, VA. https://ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsf22300/

Strassburger, J. 1995. Embracing Undergraduate Research. American Association of Higher Education Bulletin, 47(9): 3-5.