CHICAGO (September 13, 2016) — Selected undergraduate students have concluded research from a mentor-mentee structured, eight-week summer program. Made possible by support from North Park University’s donors, students accepted into the program receive a $3,500 stipend, plus $500 for materials and free on-campus housing, to participate in the North Park Research Experience for Summer Students (NPRESS).
The program started in 2015, and since then, word-of-mouth has made getting a spot in NPRESS increasingly competitive. This year, 13 students were chosen out of 30 applicants. For both the student and the faculty member, the one-on-one mentor-mentee framework, along with a student cohort model, is unique, as this type of relationship is traditionally seen at the graduate and doctorate level.
May 2016 business graduate and NPRESS participant Ana Liz Castillo embraced the mentor-mentee framework. “Throughout the summer, we all faced many challenges, such as how we were going to interpret the data to get the best results, or getting results that were statistically not significant. Having the support of our individual mentors, and the professors from other majors, helped us overcome those walls,” said a pleased Castillo.
North Park faculty members and NPRESS co-directors Dr. Rajkumar Boaz Johnsonand Dr. Aaron Kaestner developed the program to offer undergraduate students a comprehensive and hands-on learning experience, encompassing research, writing, and presenting. “NPRESS gives students the full experience as an undergraduate while also providing students a sense of graduate-level research,” said Johnson.
Inspired by the program, participants like Castillo plan to extend their academic studies into post-undergraduate work. “NPRESS helped me to generate the first findings of a research area that I want to focus on in graduate school,” remarked Castillo. “This past experience with NPRESS instilled research habits that will become extremely useful for me to excel in my graduate studies.”
Commitment to the program is significant, with a minimum of 40 hours of research per week. “Students have regular weekly check-ins with their co-directors and mentors throughout the eight weeks,” said Kaestner. At the end of the eight weeks, students are well-prepared to present to a packed room of faculty, advisors, peers, members of the board of trustees, and donors, held on campus at the Johnson Center for Science and Community Life.
This year’s July 29 and August 31 presentations covered a broad array of research topics from the various divisions of the College of Arts and Sciences and other schools at North Park. NPRESS recipients covered such wide-ranging subjects as Independence Movements in Catalunya and the Emergence of Populism in Espana: A Political Analysis; How Prayer Takes Us Beyond Onto-theology; and Exploring the Relationship Between Inventory Turns on Gross Profit Margin Measures.
NPRESS students agreed that while research is hard work, they welcomed the challenge of combining disparate subject matter. Influenced by North Park’s commitment to using Chicago as our classroom, participant Hannah Hawkinson researched feminist readings of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and of three Gospel narratives, comparing them to the experiences of five immigrant and refugee women in Chicago.
“NPRESS gave me time and space to develop my research skills and academic writing abilities while also supporting engagement with social justice issues here in Chicago,” said Hawkinson, an English literature and biblical and theological studies major. The NPRESS experience “afforded the opportunity to explore these passions in tandem through my research project,” added Hawkinson.
Each of the chosen topics, with a clear set of goals initiated by the students and supported by the mentor-mentee relationship, reflects the North Park mission to prepare students for lives of service and significance. “My mutual passions for feminist theology and social justice were not only allowed, but encouraged, to come together in the pursuit of significance and service,” remarked Hawkinson.
As for the future of NPRESS, Johnson is particularly excited about taking the educational experience to a different and higher level, where research becomes a central component of the North Park experience. “The students are excited about the possibility of doing more,” he said.
The NPRESS Committee also expressed their gratitude to the donors and the board for making the program possible and for providing North Park students with another avenue to connect academic interests with real-life experiences.
Acceptance into NPRESS is based on student merit, outcome, and commitment, and evaluated by North Park’s Undergraduate Research Committee (URC). The application deadline for Summer 2017 will be this spring, and applications are open to faculty and undergraduate students of all disciplines. Inquiries can be made with URC Chair Dr. Jonathan Rienstra-Kiracofe at email@example.com.