Emerging Research Scholars

New student program aims to encourage undergraduate research projects

Most students think research is something done by old men in lab coats, that it’s out of reach as they earn their undergraduate degree. Kimberly Johnson, Ed.D., is looking to change that.

Johnson has been an integral part of the UMKC community for the last twenty years in a variety of roles. Her passion, though, has always been working with and supporting students, particularly students of color. Her new role with Multicultural Student Affairs allows her an opportunity to do just that.

“Emerging Research Scholars is new a program with the UMKC Office of Multicultural Student Affairs that offers high-achieving, historically underrepresented students research projects in their field of study with faculty mentors,” Johnson said. “Scholars will receive academic, social and financial support while becoming integrated into the intellectual climate of the university.”

To utilize resources already available to UMKC students, Johnson reached out to Jane Greer, director of Undergraduate Research, to collaborate on this new student opportunity. Through this collaboration with the Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship, students can be matched with a faculty mentor who can best support the student in their chosen field of research. The office was also able to offer work study positions to students in this first Emerging Research Scholars cohort.

“We've always tried to focus on making sure that our different opportunities serve the full range of UMKC students, including students from historically excluded groups,” Greer said. “We were especially excited that Dr. Johnson took on this new role in the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and is working to create more ways to support these students in terms of getting them involved in research.”

Increasing student interest and involvement in research begins with encouraging them to conduct research in fields that interest them.

“This is not just for medical school, you could be studying arts and sciences, law, whatever field they want to study,” Johnson said. “We're hoping that they can find a faculty member or someone here in the Kansas City community that can help them. We do have some students who are not yet paired with the faculty member because we need more faculty mentors.”

Hannah Leyva, ’24, who just declared her major in Sociology, with an emphasis in Cultural Anthropology and minors in Spanish and Urban Studies, was one such student in this first cohort.

“I was not originally paired with a faculty mentor, and although this caused some uncertainty at first, it really was beneficial,” Leyva said. “As someone who has only recently declared their major, having the opportunity to reach out to professors instead of being automatically paired allowed me to investigate what kind of research I wanted to do. It is also overall helpful, as someone who wants to continue research in graduate school, to gain that experience of taking the initiative to network.”

Earth and Environmental Sciences student Amanda Mercier, ’22, is also thriving with the new connections she has made in the program, both student and faculty.

“Being part of the Emerging Scholar's Research Program this semester was incredibly motivating, insightful and helpful with regards to professionalism and getting involved in research or opportunities provided by the school or community,” Mercier said. “I felt that I constantly had a team of people that had my back and were a great source of information on any subject.  I learned that the things that gave me anxiety or I struggled with, I wasn't the only one and didn't feel alone anymore.”

These conversations and the relationships that form from them are exactly what Johnson is hoping for. Her ultimate goal is for Emerging Scholars to gain experiences that will prepare them for graduate school and their future careers.

“Many of these students are just trying to get through their undergrad and are not thinking beyond,” she said. “How do we get our students, particularly students of color, thinking about grad school right now and what they need to do to prepare for it? If you're not prepared for graduate school, how does that help you in the workforce? If they're getting exposed to it, knowing that they can do research as an undergrad, they're more prepared to apply for graduate school.”

This is, of course, a main goal of the Office of Undergraduate Research, and Greer is thrilled that Emerging Scholars allows this connection with students that may not have been made otherwise.

“As the Emerging Scholars Program continues to grow, the future is really bright,” Greer said. “Dr. Johnson’s very astutely providing a lot of social support and structures to help students who may have never had these opportunities presented to them. We serve all students, and undergraduate research is something that every student UMKC should have an opportunity to get involved in.”

Leyva says she’s proud to be among the first cohort of this program and is grateful for the variety of opportunities the program can provide.

“What I found helpful about the Emerging Research Scholars is that there is a support system to help guide you through undergraduate research,” Leyva said. “It is not only your faculty mentor, but Dr. Johnson as well, and professionals who volunteer their time for research/graduate school workshops, and even other students in the program. It really is refreshing to be surrounded by others who understand the importance of diverse representation in research.”

If you are a UMKC faculty member interested in mentoring Emerging Research Scholars, please contact Kimberly Johnson at johnsonkimd@umkc.edu.

Published: Nov 30, 2021

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