History of the Undergraduate Research Program

APU’s undergraduate research program originated in 1997, when then-Provost Patricia Anderson appointed assistant professor of biology Cahleen Shrier, PhD, as APU’s first director of undergraduate research, tasked with increasing the undergraduate research profile of all disciplines on campus.

In her first year, Shrier organized a campus poster session on Cougar Walk during which undergraduate students competed for awards. The following year, she held the event in Wilden auditorium, integrating oral presentations and concluding with a reception for all participants, families, and friends. Shrier also arranged undergraduate research sessions and poster presentations at the university’s annual Common Day of Learning.

Perhaps most importantly, Shrier developed a process to fund undergraduate students to attend or present research at national academic conferences. In the early years, when few undergraduates engaged in research, departments used this funding to take groups of students to local conferences. Eventually, however, as individual research projects increased, Shrier could fund only those students who presented at conferences, which remains the case today. To promote the undergraduate research program’s resources, she emailed faculty and placed information in chapel announcements for students. She also initiated participation in the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR), of which APU has been an active member for years. In her capacity as a nonvoting member of APU’s Faculty Research Council, she successfully lobbied to increase the salary of undergraduate research interns on campus to reflect their unique skill set.

In 1999, English professor Carole Lambert, PhD, assumed the position of director of undergraduate research, which she held for six years. Her tenure saw an increase in the number of students who sought and received funding to present their research at regional and national conferences, especially first-generation students and undergraduates who had never before engaged in research. Initially, all students accepted to conferences sponsored by a reputable academic society and who had the support of an APU faculty-mentor received travel funds. With the increase in student research, however, Lambert’s funding wore thin, so she began encouraging department chairs to support students with whatever discretionary funds might be available.

Mark Eaton, PhD, an associate professor of English, was interim director during Lambert’s sabbatical in fall 2004. When, in 2005, Lambert became APU’s director of research, Charity Plaxton-Hennings, PhD, an associate professor of psychology, stepped in as director of undergraduate research. Plaxton-Hennings continued the tradition of funding student research travel and promoting undergraduate research across the disciplines. She was succeeded by another associate professor of psychology, Curtis Hsia, PhD, who held the position during the 2006-07 academic year.

In fall 2007, Kevin S. Huang, PhD, an associate professor of chemistry, began a nine-year stint as director of undergraduate research. In addition to revamping the undergraduate travel protocols and participating in CUR conferences, Huang’s most important contribution was launching the Scholarly Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) in 2013. This program provides funding to advanced undergraduates and financial compensation to their full-time faculty-mentors to complete competitive research projects that make an original intellectual or creative contribution to their discipline. Funded student-faculty dyads have included the humanities, fine arts, business, political science, nursing, theology, and STEM, and have resulted in numerous professional conference presentations, several peer-reviewed publications, and at least one national award. This important funding opportunity has increased the quantity and quality of APU’s undergraduate research projects, which has stimulated student competitiveness for graduate programs and professional positions.

Verónica A. Gutiérrez, MFA, PhD, who replaced Huang in the fall of 2016, is the outgoing director of undergraduate research. Gutiérrez has increased the visibility of the program by launching undergraduate research showcases each semester, during which students and their faculty-mentors discuss the origins, challenges, and benefits of their research experience and answer questions before an audience of their peers. During the 2021-22 academic year, the Undergraduate Research Program pivoted to virtual showcases, recordings of which can be viewed on the Office of Research and Grants YouTube channel. Partnering with David Weeks, the dean of the Honors College, in the summer of 2020, Dr. Gutiérrez helped launch APU's account with the Student Opportunity Center (SOC), the nation’s largest online database for scholarships, grants, fellowships, internships, co-ops, conferences, publications, and juried competitions. A free platform for students, the SOC enhanced APU student engagement in research during the two academic years (2020-21 and 2021-22) that we offered this opportunity..

One of Gutiérrez’s most lasting legacies is transforming the Undergraduate Research Program’s single-page website into a more practical resource for students and faculty. Individual pages for conference travel awards, undergraduate research showcases, the Scholarly Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Award, recent student presentations, and the history of the undergraduate research program broadcast and celebrate APU student accomplishments beyond the institution.

Anupama Jacob, PhD, who served as interim director in the fall of 2019, will replace Dr. Gutiérrez in the fall of 2022 as APU’s director of undergraduate research.

APU’s Directors of Undergraduate Research
Name Title Term
Cahleen Shrier, PhD Assistant Professor
Department of Biology and Chemistry
Carole Lambert, PhD Professor
Department of English
Mark Eaton, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of English
Fall 2004
Charity Plaxton-Hennings, PhD Associate Professor
Department of Psychology
Curtis Hsia, PhD Associate Professor
Department of Psychology
Kevin Huang, PhD Associate Professor
Department of Biology and Chemistry
Anupama Jacob, PhD Associate Professor
Department of Social Work
Fall 2019
Verónica A. Gutiérrez, MFA, PhD Associate Professor
Department of History and Political Science
Anupama Jacob, PhD Professor
Department of Social Work
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