Undergraduate Research Academies: Reimagining research through a liberal arts lens

Undergraduate Research Academies within the College of Liberal Arts are thoughtfully curated research opportunities for undergraduate students to build their research experience and to support a culture of learning in the social sciences, humanities and arts.

At a nationally recognized research institution like CSU, the URAs offer high-impact opportunities to liberal arts students. Incorporating students into their robust research interests and projects, the academy leaders, faculty and staff from a myriad of departments help students learn about the possibilities of research within liberal arts disciplines. Recent studies indicate that undergraduates engaged in faculty-mentored research achieve higher academic performance, retention rates and postgraduate entry rates.

Academy alumni and leaders alike remark on the notable value of their experience. Students often mention the impact their involvement had on their future career goals while leaders cite the meaningful ways they developed their own specialized research and industry knowledge. Many leaders rely on their own research history and focus while designing their academy. This allows the leader to continue building on knowledge they are passionate about while sharing past research findings with student participants. By engaging in hands-on research in their chosen area of interest, students gain a keen understanding of the key aspects of research while academy leaders are able to pose new questions and build on their existing knowledge and research.

Since the inception of the program in 2018, there have been 15 different URAs from 13 different departments throughout the college. In the 2022-2023 cycle, there are six new academies and five returning academies. The academies listed below are examples of the kinds of research conducted in the College of Liberal Arts.

Lead by Assistant Professor of Communication Studies Katie Knobloch
Department of Communication Studies
Students from the "Academy for Civic Engagement Scholars" assisting with the CPD Budget Event

The Academy for Civic Engagement Scholars works with students interested in studying democracy and the impact it has on individuals and communities. The academy focuses on existing, on-campus civic engagement efforts, such as those implemented through the Center for Public Deliberation and the Straayer Center for Public Service Leadership. Additionally, ACES’s connection to existent coursework through the CPD is one of its strong points, contributing greatly to its sustained success.

Participant and communication student, Jason Smith (‘23), shared that he worked with marginalized students to help them advocate for themselves in school.

“The most rewarding part of the research was being able to talk to students with whom I had already built relationships and find out how my work had impacted them,” Smith said. “Knowing that I was able to impact the youth in the Fort Collins community in ways that improved their lives brought me great joy.”

“I’ve loved introducing students to community engaged research,” said academy leader Katie Knobloch. “We get to work with exceptional students who are committed to using their talents for the public good, and in our scholarship, we strive to co-create our research with community.”

Lead by Associate Professor of Dance Madeline Harvey
School of Music Theatre and Dance
Participants and mentors in the Movement through Parenthood Undergraduate Research Academy

Movement Through Parenthood is an interdisciplinary research program exploring the impact of dance on prenatal emotional attachment and well-being during pregnancy. Their intervention program is fully virtual, reaching prenatal clinics, birth centers, and birthing persons across the globe. As academy leader Madeine Harvey reports, the academy’s collaborative dynamic has played a critical role in its continued success. She is grateful for ongoing mentorship from Dr. Zeynep Biringen, Professor Emerita, Human Development and Family Studies.

“Students are empowered to critique current practices and innovate new approaches as they collaborate with faculty at the grass roots level,” said Harvey. “It is an honor to see their passion and delight as they engage with participants.”

Lead by Assistant Professor of Communication Studies Meara Faw
Department of Communication Studies
Assistant Professor of Communication Studies Meara Faw and "Research in Interpersonal Communication" URA student participant using a video camera together

The Research in Interpersonal Communication Collaborative (RICC) provides students with experience learning the social scientific research process. All work is highly collaborative, leading to a supportive team environment. The academy also provides the option for course credit, allowing students the flexibility to participate in RICC while making timely progress towards their degree – a linchpin in its continued appeal and support.

Participant and Journalism and Media Communication student Ashley Patterson (‘24) states “I feel very fortunate to have been a part of the RICC team and was honored to have the opportunity. The mentorship I received literally altered my educational path and is one of the primary reasons I am in graduate school now.”

“I love when students learn about a new research technique or process, and they get so excited to put it into action!” said academy leader Meara Faw. “It truly brings me so much joy to share my passion and enthusiasm for research with them.”

Lead by Instructor of International Studies Meagan Todd
International Studies Program

In The Human Rights Research Academy (HRRA), undergraduates learn techniques for identifying and measuring human rights abuses. Students gain experience with key methods of human rights documentation and analysis.

Student researchers in the HRRA are currently preparing their findings for sharing with wider communities. Some students are writing policy reports for the United Nations, while others are creating story maps to be shared through CSU’s Center for Ethics and Human Rights.

“Using the resources we have as a first-world university, as an academy, we can engage deeply and sincerely with human rights issues,” states academy leader Meagan Todd. “We increase our abilities to be better partners in accompaniment on these issues by honing our skills and intercultural competencies.”

Lead by Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies Nikoli Attai
Department of Ethnic Studies
Students from the "Real Talk" URA chatting in a circle in front of a poster at MURALS

The Real Talk Academy for Black/ African American undergraduate students is a collaborative student-led research project hosted in partnership with the Black/ African American Cultural Center (B/AACC) and the new Ethnic Studies Collab Lab. Undergraduate research associates spent Spring 2023 conducting ethnographic research to document the social, cultural, and political experiences of Black and African American students at CSU. The core goal of this academy is to develop public-facing, accessible projects reflecting decolonial, intersectional and transnational research methodologies.

Participant and political science student, Asma Bushara (‘25), shares that the academy builds on the conversation around Black and African American students’ feelings of isolation at CSU. “This research academy was created in hopes to understand this problem and how we can fix it,” said Bashara.

Another participant, biological anthropology/sociology double-major Helen Obuna (‘24), states that the most rewarding part of her experience was listening to the experiences of Black/African American undergraduate students. “There is power in knowing that others have gone through similar situations of isolation, bias, and a reduced sense of belonging,” said Obuna. “It builds community and mutual support.”

"Real Talk Academy" participants sitting at desks in a classroom

“This experience has been a truly inspiring one,”shares academy leader Nikoli Attai. “I am happy to see Research Associates take the lead in guiding the project as they learnt about the importance of doing this kind of qualitative work.”

Lead by Assistant Professor of Spanish Alyssia Miller De Rutte
Department of Literature, Languages and Cultures
"Research in Animal, Legal and Medical Spanish" URA participants posing together with URA t-shirts

The Research in Animal, Legal, and Medical Spanish (ReALMS) academy trains students on language needs analysis research: an approach focused on determining what tasks learners need to complete to function effectively in their target language.

ReALMS acknowledges CSU community members as key stakeholders, incorporating their perspectives into the research process. According to academy leader Alyssia Miller De Rutte, this helps participants triangulate results, supporting strong evidence-based research.

“I have really loved watching students become so invested in the different projects,” said Miller De Rutte. “The students can really see the impact that the research has, and how we can impact the Spanish-speaking community.”

Lead by Postdoctoral Fellow Team Scientist Jake Keyel
Institute for Research in Social Sciences

CLA students have worked with staff in the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences (IRISS) to design, deliver, and analyze a social network survey of CLA staff, faculty, and graduate students. The survey was designed to gather feedback for the revitalized Clark building and to map the ongoing collaborations across departments within CLA.

The initial idea for the project came out of a conversation between College of Liberal Arts Dean Withers and IRISS staff regarding the design of the revitalized Clark building. The idea was to gather useful information that could inform the design of new CLA spaces.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of the project has been helping the students develop skills in social network analysis,” said Keyel. “This method is increasingly sought after, and knowledge of it will serve the students well as they continue their careers.”

Lead by Assistant Professors of English Education Rosa Nam & Ricki Ginsberg
Department of English

Drs. Ginsberg and Nam’s URA started when they invited students to join them in conducting a survey to understand secondary English Language Arts (ELA) teachers’ experiences with censorship. Presently, the students are leading the effort to build a database of teacher contact information to then offer support in policy and professional development.

Ginsberg and Nam state they were particularly impressed by the dedication the students showcased regardless of major. For many students, teaching is not in their career plan, yet they feel a strong pull to support teachers and fight censorship.

To get involved with Undergraduate Research Academies, students should visit the Student Research page while prospective academy leaders are encouraged to reach out to The Office for Undergraduate Research and Artistry.