Every semester at Gonzaga, a select few students are paired with GU professors to perform undergraduate research. For a lot of Zags, this whole process might seem quite mysterious, and conjure up images of students spending long days in front of computers entering row after row of data or writing down tedious lists of lab procedures. The truth, however, is a lot less mysterious and much more interesting.
In 2016, GU created the Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Inquiry (CURCI) to celebrate the unique collaboration between student and faculty that is undergraduate research, as well as to publish works created by undergraduate research collaborations.
The program is one of several at GU that focus on undergraduate research but is mainly an opportunity for students to work with professors from the College of Arts and Sciences on research projects the professors are conducting. GU’s science majors also have opportunities to pursue research within the Gonzaga Science Research Program (GSRP), where they can work with STEM faculty to pursue their research interests.
The College of Arts and Sciences also has two fellowships, the Morris Fellowship and the Killen Fellowship, which are awarded to undergraduate student researchers. The Morris Fellowship funded by Scott and Elizabeth Morris, both GU graduates, focuses on student-led undergraduate research opportunities, according to the fellowship’s website.
The Killen Scholars Program, on the other hand, is specifically for mentoring women as leaders and researchers through their exploration of Catholicism and is funded by the Gallant family. The main undergraduate research program for GU though, by number of students, is the CURCI.
Both students and professors involved with CURCI believe that it provides a lot of benefits for both the students and faculty. Casey Schmitt, an associate professor of communication studies, and a current CURCI faculty supervisor, believes that CURCI gives students a unique experience to grow both personally and academically.
“I do think it is beneficial in both ways,” Schmitt said. “I think for the student it’s a chance to hone skills outside the classroom, to hone both study skills and professional skills without the looming specter of a grade.”
On the faculty side, it helps professors free up time for teaching and streamlines the research process.
“The faculty I think, benefit from this in a couple ways,” Schmitt said. “Obviously, when I’m writing a book, it saves me a lot of time when I have somebody there sifting through sources. Gonzaga is a teaching university, but we are also a high performed academic university, so we are expected to compete with state schools and schools with a lot of grant funding.”
The time commitment and length of the program can vary from professor to professor and varies based on demand. Schmitt, for example, has been writing a book for several years, but only started working with CURCI this semester when it became apparent that he needed a second hand with his research.
“My book project, for instance, I started years ago, and it was only this semester I realized I needed help,” Schmitt said. “But there are other shorter research projects.”
Junior Blake Fry, a business administration major and a CURCI research assistant working with Dr. Kathleen Jeffs, agreed with Schmitt that the time put into research projects can vary.
“I am putting together a textbook with the Theatre and Arts Department,” Fry said. “I have two other jobs, so I am pretty packed, but I try to get to 10 hours a week. [The researchers] can give you as many hours as you want.”
As a business administration major who is interning at the athletic department, one reason Fry likes the research opportunity is because it gives him a chance to see another side of GU.
“For me, it’s a different side to what I’m usually doing. I’ve learned a lot about the theater and interdisciplinary arts,” Fry said. “It’s cool to learn more about what these professors are researching and how they structure their classes.”
The work for undergraduate student researchers is varied, because it depends on the research topic. For example, sophomore Christa Langdon, a sociology and criminology double major, has worn a variety of different hats in her role as a research assistant for Melissa Click, an associate professor of communications.
“My role is basically to help her with interviews or writing up transcripts or thinking up interview questions,” Langdon said. “Basically, anything she needs help with.”
Langdon believed that the CURCI research project had helped her become a better, more disciplined researcher.
“From this I’ve really learned how to conduct interviews,” Langdon said. “It’s helped me to learn how to do research on my own. It’s really nice because you are truly a research assistant, and you do your own research.”
Both Fry and Langdon meet with their faculty advisors over Zoom once a week, but they both agreed that COVID-19 had made the personal connection between student and professor tougher. Schmitt echoed their thoughts in his interview.
“The biggest downside to this year is that we don’t have that personal connection,” Schmitt said. “I used to have lunch with students and talk for an hour. That’s the biggest difference this semester.”