Undergraduate Research Overview

What is undergraduate research in the Art Department?

According to the Arts and Humanities Division of the Council on Undergraduate Research, it is "student-driven, faculty-mentored inquiry, scholarly investigation, and/or creative activity." The really important phrase here is "student-driven." While faculty may provide opportunities or direct students towards projects that are ripe for investigation, in the end, undergraduate research reflects the commitment, curiosity, and passion of the student. It's about identifying a question that hasn't been answered to your satisfaction and using your technical and creative skills to seek new solutions or even to change the nature of the question itself.

What kind of projects do Art students undertake?

Research is a broad term that loosely defined means inquiry that leads to original ideas or concepts. Art students habitually engage in research from the beginning of their training as they experiment with varieties and means of visual expression in order to communicate thoughts and experiences. Where a printmaking student's research project might investigate traditional Japanese woodblock techniques as a means for visualizing a personal experience of family life, a graphic design student might focus on using digital animation to build a tool for expanding basic health-care literacy among underserved populations, and an art education student might develop a teaching module for high school photographers based on the social documentary approach of WPA artists represented in the museum collection. Students have completed Honors contracts, Honors theses, and URCO grant projects in virtually every emphasis area, and now, thanks to support from the Office of the Vice President for Research, several art students have received Undergraduate Research assitantships, allowing them to work side-by-side with a professor on her or his research.

How does the Art Department support student research?

In addition to university-level funding for student research, such as Undergraduate Research Fellowships (a prestigious, 4-year award based on academic merit and talent), Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunity (URCO) grants, and Undergraduate Research assistantships, the art department facilitates student research by providing exhibition spaces and opportunities, operating several study-abroad programs that emphasize hands-on learning, and encouraging students and faculty alike to explore new ways of engaging in student-driven inquiry. BFA exhibitions and senior thesis presentations help students make their research public. For students with a serious commitment to research, the departmental Honors program, in coordination with University Honors, offers even more opportunities for support and mentorship.

Where can undergraduate research take me?

Numerous studies have shown that engaging in undergraduate research is immensely beneficial in its own right; you develop skills, build confidence, and deepen your understanding of your field of study in ways that simply exceed the "business as usual" of classroom learning. In a more concrete sense, having a major independent project of your own, such as a solo exhibition or an innovative branding campaign is a powerful resume builder, whether you're looking to go on to graduate study or to enter the workforce. University awards for excellence in undergraduate research, such as the Undergraduate Talent of the Year and Undergraduate Researcher of the year, are strong endorsements that correlate closely with professional success. Meanwhile, the Undergraduate Research Scholar transcript designation tells prospective graduate schools and employers that you are a serious, committed, and experienced candidate.

Sharing your research and creative activity with the public is one important factor in gaining recognition, and we encourage all our student researchers to participate in poster sessions and conferences such as the Undergraduate Research Showcase at USU, Research on Capitol Hill at the state capitol, the Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research (UCUR), and the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. For artists, visibility is everything, and all of these events raise your profile while also celebrating the possibilities of research outside the traditional "research disciplines" of the natural and physical sciences.

How do I get involved?

Ask your professors about their research activities and about opportunities to get involved. Attend artists' talks and get to know the graduate students in your area of emphasis—the best way to learn about research in the arts is by engaging in a little bit of, well, research.

Explore the Achievements, Current Research, and Opportunities links; inspiration may strike. Think outside the lines drawn by your course syllabi and the projects you do for in-class assignments. How could you take your work one step beyond the requirements? How could you make it fly?

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