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Research Workshop Eases Transition for New Transfer Students

This summer, the Office of Undergraduate Education debuted a program designed to ensure that first-generation and minority transfer students learn about the resources and research opportunities available to maximize their experience at a research-intensive institution like The University of Texas at Dallas.

Institutional data shows that transfer students are more likely to have jobs, which may limit the amount of time some have to participate in intensive research while they also are taking classes. The Transfer Research Initiative, a five-week online workshop for students transferring into UT Dallas this fall, provides an opportunity for those students to gain research experience.

The Transfer Research Initiative expands on the programming offered through the Undergraduate Success Scholars (USS) program, which provides formal guided pathways for select underrepresented minority undergraduates to facilitate academic achievement and personal development.

“The benefits of this new program go beyond just five weeks,” said Courtney Brecheen MPA’09, PhD’17, senior associate dean of undergraduate education. “Students become more comfortable reaching out and asking about other campus resources. We’re making that initial connection to the UT Dallas network, allowing students to acclimate faster and navigate the community more efficiently.”

The summer session included lectures, presentations and hands-on online activities, all conducted via Blackboard Collaborate. Guest speakers as well as mentors from local technology companies also featured prominently in the workshop.

“The benefits of this new program go beyond just five weeks. Students become more comfortable reaching out and asking about other campus resources. We’re making that initial connection to the UT Dallas network, allowing students to acclimate faster and navigate the community more efficiently.”

Courtney Brecheen MPA’09, PhD’17, senior associate dean of undergraduate education

The 23 participants — all incoming transfer students — were introduced to an array of campus resources and exposed to research in a variety of disciplines, with faculty partners representing the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS), the Naveen Jindal School of Management (JSOM) and the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences (EPPS). Core areas of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) spectrum were presented by leading scientists and researchers, and ongoing research projects were discussed at the workshop.

“Students had the opportunity to discuss specific research projects with graduate, doctoral and postdoctoral researchers in different labs across the campus,” said Dr. Meenakshi Maitra, senior lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences and the lead instructor for the course. Maitra was tasked with the overall design of the workshop, coordination of engagement activities and recruitment of guest lecturers.

“The workshop fostered intense interaction between faculty members from STEM-related fields and transfer students at UT Dallas,” Maitra said. “In addition, computational biologists from Johns Hopkins University led the students through a hands-on session analyzing human genomic sequence data for specific mutations.”

“Last year, we did a compact version of this workshop for first-generation students. That event led us to believe that a series covering an intersection of academics, technology and industry experience would make this most fruitful for transfer students.”

Dr. Meenakshi Maitra, senior lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences and lead instructor for the workshop

Over the course of the workshop, students delved further into individual subjects, including coding sessions under the supervision of Dr. Jey Veerasamy, associate professor of instruction from the Department of Computer Science and director of the Center for Computer Science Education and Outreach. Gaurav Shekhar, JSOM senior lecturer and a leading expert in information systems, taught a lesson in building an effective business model and introduced the students to digital storytelling using the Tableau data visualization software.

ECS faculty members led students through designing projects using UTDesign and UTDesign Makerspace. Students also used the Tinkercad application to make their own 3D designs for printing in the UTDesign labs. Dr. Karl Ho, associate professor of instruction from EPPS, surveyed the primary language tools in data science. Students learned the fundamentals of data programming, data sciences and data analytics with hands-on examples and exercises.

Undergraduate Success Scholars Program

The mission of the Undergraduate Success Scholars program at UT Dallas is to serve underrepresented minority students with engagement opportunities, academic support, mentorship and guidance to meet both personal and professional goals. The program aims to increase underrepresented minority student enrollment, success and retention.

“In a time where physical distancing has hindered our ability as a student body to be together as one, I have found this program to be enlightening and informative for new transfer students,” said George Kidane, a neuroscience senior and first-generation college student. “Many programs I initially would not have otherwise found out about at UTD have been brought to my attention.”

Many of the speakers represented minority communities and had backgrounds as first-generation students themselves.

“They talked about their own academic and career paths, how they achieved what they have, the obstacles they’ve faced, and what students should focus on while they’re still in school,” Maitra said.

Founded in 2014, the four-year USS program provides progressive, formal guided pathways through the university experience for underrepresented minority students to help bridge the achievement gap between those students and their majority counterparts. The Transfer Research Initiative is an extension of that emphasis focusing on transfer students.

“We will maximize your time here, whether you’re here for one year, two years or five. We’re going to make sure that every single student has access to these resources and opportunities.”

Kimberly Edwards, assistant director of the Undergraduate Success Scholars program

“Last year, we did a compact version of this workshop for first-generation students,” Maitra said. “That event led us to believe that a series covering an intersection of academics, technology and industry experience would make this most fruitful for transfer students.”

USS assistant director Kimberly Edwards said that data and needs assessments indicated a high percentage of underrepresented transfer students interested in research and other co-curricular programming. She hopes that the program, supported by a one-time grant provided by the UT Dallas New Student Engagement Board, will be able to continue in future academic years.

“We will maximize your time here, whether you’re here for one year, two years or five,” Edwards said of incoming transfer students. “We’re going to make sure that every single student has access to these resources and opportunities.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu.