This spring, the University of Tennessee will support 64 undergraduate students across campus as part of the Departmental Research Assistantship (DRA) Program. This program is funded through a the Division of Student Success as part of the >Volunteer Experience and in alignment with UT’s Strategic Vision. During the spring semester, student employees in the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and performing arts will earn $1,500 to aid faculty researchers in their major.
“The Volunteer Experience is transforming the undergraduate experience at UT, and the DRA Program is one element in that transformation giving our undergraduate students experiential learning opportunities that will benefit their long-term academic and professional goals,” Amber Williams, vice provost for Student Success, said. “The student-faculty relationship is the foundation of our Vols having a meaningful, influential experience here at UT that will make them graduates who are confident, resilient, and self-motivated.”
The DRA program is meant to remove financial barriers to engage students who are low-income and first generation with undergraduate research and enhance relationships with faculty and mentors. A partnership between the Division of Student Success, Undergraduate Research & Fellowships (URF), and departments across UT and UTIA, the program will also recognize faculty mentors and measure student demand for research opportunities and the supply of those opportunities on campus.
Response to the application was significant, as was the interest of the departments and faculty to engage in the program. Students have been awarded in 44 departments across all UT undergraduate colleges. At least 244 faculty were eager to work with a DRA student, and eight departments offered to fund additional DRA students to match URF funding.
“This semester’s award is the largest funding of semester-based, co-curricular undergraduate researchers in the university’s history,” Erin Darby, URF faculty director and associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies, said. “We are excited at the opportunities this program will give students to discover undergraduate research and build more meaningful relationships with their faculty mentors.”
Students from the program will present their research during Discovery Day in fall 2022, and URF will work with Dr. Patrick Biddix, professor and associate director of the Postsecondary Education Research Center (PERC), and graduate students to design an assessment program for the inaugural DRA year.