URS began as an idea brought back to the UW-Madison campus by several colleagues who attended a March 1996 conference on residential living and learning communities at the University of Michigan. At the conference, Professors Bill Cronon and Aaron Brower and then Letters and Science (L&S) Honors Assistant Dean Maree Elowson attended a presentation about Michigan’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP). Impressed with UROP’s mission and success, they became determined to establish a similar program at the UW.
The First Scholars
In 1998, URS was officially launched through the Office of the Chancellor. It was quickly moved to the College of Letters & Science. The first Undergraduate Research Scholars, all in their first year of college, began their research/creative work experiences with faculty and staff in early February of 1999. The first Scholars also met in seminars to learn about ethics in research/creative work, planning for post-baccalaureate education, resume writing, and public speaking. The semester was celebrated at the URS Banquet, which was attended by the entire URS community of Scholars, Mentors, Peer Mentors, and the Advisory Committee, as well as campus guests. The highlight of the night was students’ vivid presentations about their research experiences and what URS meant to them.
Continuing to Evolve: The Early 2000’s
Akua Sarr, an Assistant Dean in the L&S Honors Program, became the director of URS in 2001. The next academic year, 2002-2003, brought numerous changes to the program, including a new name for the Peer Mentors: Undergraduate Research Fellows. Akua thought the new name more accurately described the students’ role in the program, because their job encompassed much more than mentoring Scholars.
For the 2002-2003 school year, the staff also decided to change the structure of the course. Previously, Scholars met for a plenary session with their entire cohort and then attended small group meetings with their Peer Mentors. Because the program had grown to 120 students by 2002, the plenary sessions were no longer feasible. During that year, Scholars met weekly in small group seminars led by Fellows.
The end-of-year research presentations also evolved. All Scholars presented at the campus wide Undergraduate Symposium which spotlighted undergraduate achievement in research and community service. URS students comprised the majority of Symposium presenters.
The highlight of 2002-2003 academic year was the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education (NCORE), held in San Francisco. The entire staff conducted a session at the conference entitled: “An Innovation in Academic Culture: Undergraduates Teaching Undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.” Research Fellows presented their work to an audience of professionals and students and received positive feedback from session participants.
The 2003-2004 academic year was a successful one for URS. Under Akua’s leadership, the program co-sponsored the Undergraduate Symposium in April. Several URS students and their Mentors had their projects profiled in a campus video about the Symposium. That spring, URS staff and Fellows presented at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE) for the third time in four years. Titled “The Multicultural Classroom,” their presentation received high marks from attendees.
URS received two new staff members in 2004. Svetlana T. Karpe became the program’s coordinator during the spring semester, while Amy Sloane became the Fellows’ supervisor. In June 2005, four Fellows and URS Staff atended the NCORE 2005 conference in New York City.
By 2004, the program had grown tremendously. The number of seminar sections had grown to nine. The teaching aspect of the Fellow position has expanded and gained greater depth. In 2006, Amy Sloane developed and began to teach a two-credit course for Fellows on teaching-learning and mentoring through academic inquiry. The course helps Fellows in their work while furthering their own academic goals and abilities. Also in 2006, Akua left and Svetlana T Karpe became the program’s director.
In 2013, Svetlana left and Amy became the URS director until 2019. Carina Carreño, a dedicated former Scholar and Fellow, rejoined the URS team as Program and Outreach Coordinator in January of 2018. Hannah Bailey came on board as Assistant Director in May of 2018.
The excitement continues in URS as the 2018-19 academic year marks our 20th anniversary!