Hopkins has celebrated its status as the oldest research university in the U.S for the 137 years since it was founded. The Provost’s Undergraduate Research Awards (PURA) seek to enhance the founding research principle. On April 22, these awards of up to $2,500 were granted to over 20 undergraduates from across the University.
Founded in 1993 and funded by a gift from the Hodson Trust, the PURAs are given to undergraduate students to allow them to initiate their own research project in collaboration with a faculty sponsor.
“The undergraduate education has a strong focus on people learning how to discover,” Scott L. Zeger, Vice Provost of Research and chair of the 2013 PURA selection committee, said.
“And there are two aspects of discovery: one is discovery of how the natural world works, and the other is the discovery of your own capacity and your own abilities to interact with people to be successful. I think the idea of the undergraduate education here is that by engaging in discovery of the first kind, the second kind tends to occur. ”
The most intriguing aspect of this award stems from the general terms upon which it operates. Past project proposals represent the diversity of the Hopkins institution, offering selections from the pre-medical program to Peabody.
“A lot of it is lab-based research, but much of it is also in the social sciences, or the arts,” Zeger said. “We have people who have discovered instruments in South America and discovered composers and brought back music to perform for us.”
This year’s group of recipients show an equal variety of interests.
Junior Praneeth Sadda is working under the direction of Peter Kazanzides on a new augmented-reality system (think nifty heads-up display). The system will allow surgeons to navigate inside their patients without having to turn away and look at the monitor displaying the CT scan.
Junior Alessendra Bauzte, a double major in Writing Seminars and Film and Media Studies, represents the humanities with her project — a proposal to film her short screenplay, WHAT SOPHIE SAW.
“My script takes on a large-scale issue — school gun violence — and explores it through the lens of one family, on a micro, emotional level through the eyes of a 13-year oldgirl, the would-be shooter’s sister,” Alessendra wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
“We are going to put the funds towards production costs. Joshua Land ’15 and Victor Fink ’14, both Film and Media Studies majors, will be helping with the directing and cinematography. So, many students will benefit academically from the grant.”
Freshman Ahmed Elsayyad decided to take on the question of how the government allocates healthcare.
“I intend to evaluate how healthy individuals value supplementary insurance coverage of mental illness by quantifying their willingness to pay via a survey” Ahmed wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
“The results may be useful to determine whether the government ought to include mental health benefits under the umbrella of a baseline of healthcare.”
Julia Huerta, a student at the School of Nursing, brought her public health background into her proposal. She wants to better understand the relationship between trauma experienced by women and associated mental health problems like depression, PTSD and suicidal ideation.
“The experiences of victims of trauma cannot just be captured with prevalence and incidence data, but we need to consider the severity and length of violence experienced or witnessed,” Huerta wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “I hope this project will lead to a great awareness of using both quantitative and qualitative methods to collect and analyze data.”
These projects represent only a small slice of the range of issues tackled by the innovative undergraduates at Hopkins. The 2013 class of PURA awardees are well on their way along the path to discovery and will carry forward the university’s commitment to research.