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Undergraduate Research Office Records

Identifier: 2010-0001

Scope and Content Note

The Undergraduate Research Office Collection contains records and documents used, and/or created, by the Undergraduate Research Office (URO) to facilitate its support of undergraduate research across all departments at Carnegie Mellon University. The collection includes records of awards dispersed, internal and external reference files, administrative records and documents, correspondence, publications created by the URO, and a variety of photographs and negatives.

The collection is divided into five series: Programs, Reference, Partnerships, Publications, and Photos and Ephemera.


  • 1985-2013



Some material may be restricted. Please contact the University Archivist for more information.


The development of large-scale, institutionalized undergraduate research programs at many top-tier research universities like Carnegie Mellon is a relatively recent phenomenon. Before the 1990s, students at Carnegie Mellon did not share the same expectations regarding the opportunities that were open to them at the university as students do today. Though undergraduate research at Carnegie Mellon has been taking place at the departmental level since the early 1970s, it was not until 1989 that Carnegie Mellon developed a centralized undergraduate research program open to all university students. As this trend progressed throughout higher education institutions in the 1990s, Carnegie Mellon's program became a nationally recognized model and, in 2009, celebrated its twentieth anniversary.

Beginning in the early 1970s, students in Mellon College of Science participated in the first formalized research program, working alongside faculty on faculty-designed projects. Elizabeth Jones, professor of biological sciences, began to formalize the way in which undergraduates came into laboratories and joined research projects. Throughout the 1980s, individual departments and colleges sponsored undergraduate research within this small-scale, department-controlled model. For example, nearly every department offered an independent research course and colleges gave select students the opportunity to do a senior honors thesis.

These decentralized beginnings came at a time when many of the top research universities in the nation were criticized for giving preference to faculty research and graduate education at the expense of the undergraduate curriculum. With faculty interested in producing quality research and no formal way of bringing undergraduates into the fold, they could be left out of the process. Equally significant, faculty who did advise undergraduate research projects frequently found that this enormous investment of time did not count towards tenure. Finally, there were few established programs to provide guidance: most notably the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology served as a model for Carnegie Mellon's efforts.

Barbara Lazarus, then associate provost for academic projects, was particularly attuned to the national conversation on how research universities should engage their undergraduates. (Barbara Lazarus served Carnegie Mellon in several capacities from 1985 until her death in 2003.) Lazarus not only supported institutionalized, large-scale undergraduate research, which had only been implemented in a handful of other colleges and universities at that point, but also advocated for an expansive definition of research to include all disciplines, the arts and humanities as well as engineering and science. She proposed building on Carnegie Mellon's renowned interdisciplinary character, by supporting a collaborative approach to learning-one that integrated teaching and research across departments and colleges. Lazarus recognized that research was central to the university and sought, as she said many times, "to bring undergraduates into the very heart of the institution."

Lazarus began her work with two pilot projects: a directory of research opportunities and a small grant program. Lazarus published the first Directory of Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities for the 1989-1990 academic year with an advisory committee of Joseph E. Devine, Association Dean of H&SS, Robert P. Kail, Associate Dean of CIT, and Tom Keating, Director of Student Employment.

The Directory proved crucial to building the expectation that research faculty should want to be involved in mentoring undergraduates in the research process and that students should want to do research. In the summer of 1990, Lazarus hired Jessie Ramey, then a rising senior who had been working for her as a student assistant, to produce a second, greatly expanded, Directory. Published annually in hard copy format, the Directory was an immensely time-intensive project, yet Lazarus believed it would help facilitate a culture-shift at Carnegie Mellon. During the decade of its publication, when new research centers and institutes were cropping up in every college, the Directory also became a key resource for the administration, a ready-reference for research activities throughout the institution.

Small Undergraduate Research Grants

In addition to the research directory, a second pilot program launched in 1989 provided Small Undergraduate Research Grants (SURG) to students in need of funding for their projects. Lazarus felt that many more undergraduates might participate in research and pursue their own ideas if they could only get a modest amount of support for materials and supplies. The SURG program, which proved instantly popular and became synonymous with Carnegie Mellon's effort to promote undergraduate research, provided grants up to $500 for individuals and $1,000 for students working in groups.

The SURG program was one of the first of its kind in the nation and boasted a number of innovative elements. First, the program supported students in all fields, using an inclusive definition of research to encompass the humanities and social sciences as well as equivalent creative activities in the arts, in addition to the more traditional science and engineering disciplines. Second, proposals were student initiated; students were encouraged to think of their own research projects and did not necessarily have to work on an existing faculty project (the dominant paradigm in science and engineering research). Third, the program was open to undergraduates at all levels, including first year students, and was purposefully designed not to be reserved as a "capstone" experience. Finally, the program promoted cross-disciplinary exploration and interdisciplinary collaboration. For instance, it became common to see art students working with robotics faculty and the grants encouraged students to collaborate by designing research groups composed of students from different departments and colleges.

Bold Expansion: The Undergraduate Research Initiative (URI)

In the spring of 1991, Jessie Ramey (now graduated) became the founding director of the newly constituted Undergraduate Research Initiative, consolidating the Directory, SURG grants, and other research support services under one roof. Working out of borrowed space on the second floor of Smith Hall and with furniture loaned by the Center for the Design of Educational Computing, Ramey began to expand the office, adding several new programs. She launched the Presentation Award program in 1992, granting students up to $250 to present their work at academic conferences. Ramey also added advising services for students, "matchmaking" assistance for faculty looking for undergraduate collaborators, a series of efforts to formally recognize undergraduates involved in research, and seminars on topics ranging from presentation skills to ethics in research. Under her leadership, the SURG program grew dramatically and within a few years was regularly making grants to more than 150 students totaling over $50,000 a year, a ten-fold increase from its earliest year. In the summer of 1993, the URI relocated to a larger space the fourth floor of Warner Hall, and Ramey and her colleagues finally had an office of their own.

In May of 1996, Ramey introduced the first undergraduate research symposium, "Meeting of the Minds," a one-day conference giving all students the opportunity to present their work to one another and to the larger campus community. The symposium grew quickly and now showcases over 450 students each spring, representing all fields.

As the Initiative's funding steadied in this period, its relationship with corporations continued to grow. Interested in recruiting Carnegie Mellon's talented undergraduate research students, additional companies signed on including Lubrizol, Allied Signal, Andersen Consulting, General Motors, Procter & Gamble, Dell, and IBM. Several began to sponsor competitions and award prizes at the Meeting of the Minds and others provided research and internship opportunities of their own. For example, Merck created an internship program that allowed Carnegie Mellon students to work in the pharmaceutical industry.

A prestigious award from the National Science Foundation helped to further bolster the university's reputation as a national model for undergraduate research. In 1997, the NSF granted Carnegie Mellon a $500,000 Recognition Award for the Integration of Research and Education (RAIRE). The award recognized a handful of research universities that had successfully combined their research and education missions and noted Carnegie Mellon's strong leadership in undergraduate research. With its share of the RAIRE award, the Initiative was able to develop the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program, which awards $3,000 grants to undergraduates for ten weeks of summer research in any field of study.

By the time Ramey left the director position in 1998, all of the main elements of the Undergraduate Research Initiative that exist today were in place: the SURG and SURF programs, the presentation award program, the Meeting of the Minds symposium, strong support from faculty, administrators and students, and solid university funding in partnership with corporations, foundations, and individual donors.

In the fall of 1998, Janet Stocks became the second Director of Undergraduate Research and further expanded the Initiative's programs. The total annual budget of the Initiative grew from $75,000 between 1992 and 1997 to $207,528 in the 1999-2000 academic year. Stocks expanded the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program and launched a new program aimed at first year students with support from the Intel Foundation. Named the Intel First Year Research Experience (IFYRE) program, it continues to draw first and second year students into highly technical work in collaboration with Intel researchers located next to the main campus.

In 1999, the Initiative website featured an online edition of the research directory for the first time. The office also offered a year-long seminar for all students seeking to expand their research skills and started an alumni publication to keep in touch with the growing number of former students who had benefited from the program.

In 2002, Stocks and the advisory committee decided to change the name of the Initiative, which suggested a temporary or trial effort, to the Undergraduate Research Office (URO), to better reflect its status as a stable, institutionalized program. The URO was established as the largest part of the Division of the Vice Provost for Education, under Indira Nair, and served to solidify the relationship between undergraduate research and the university's educational mission.

By the time Stephanie Wallach signed on as Director in 2006, the URO was an established hub for undergraduate research funding. Wallach, who holds the joint title of Assistant Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, gained six new corporate sponsors and $592,375 in new endowed funds, which allowed the office to increase the number of SURF grants by over 50 percent.

Wallach also implemented three new additions to the services offered by the URO. The first was the adoption of the undergraduate research journal Thought in 2007, formerly published social and decision sciences major Victoria Long. Thought is published annually by a team of undergraduate students from all disciplines with the assistance of two graduate students in the Master's in Professional Writing program (MAPW). The second was that the office started participating in the "Posters at the Pennsylvania Capital" program in fall 2007, in which two Carnegie Mellon students travel to Harrisburg, along with undergraduate students from other research institutions, to present their research projects to legislators. And in 2008, the URO added a third program to the SURG/SURF family. The ISURG program, in collaboration with the Office of International Education, provides funding for students who wish to conduct research while they study abroad.

[History retrieved with permission from: href="">]


6.2 Linear feet (8 boxes, including 1 oversize box (posters))




The Undergraduate Research Office Collection contains records and documents used, and/or created, by the Undergraduate Research Office (URO) to facilitate its support of undergraduate research across all departments at Carnegie Mellon University. The collection includes records of awards dispersed, internal and external reference files, administrative records and documents, correspondence, publications created by the URO, and a variety of photographs and negatives.


The bulk of the collection was received in 2010 from the Undergraduate Research Office through Jessie Ramey.


Collection arranged, and finding aid written by Kristofer Adam Speirs. Additional writing by Laure Bukh in August 2013.
Undergraduate Research Office, 1985-2013
Finding aid prepared by Kristofer Adam Speirs
November 11, 2010
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Repository Details

Part of the Carnegie Mellon University Archives Repository

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