Creators, Authors, and Change Agents: Undergraduate Research at UMBC

Janet McGlynn is director of communication and outreach in UMBC’s Office of Undergraduate Education.

Janet McGlynnFrom Engineers without Borders working to generate clean drinking water in Kenya to the Making Words Count lab where a UMBC student is exploring Latin American immigration to the United States from a community psychology perspective, UMBC students conduct original mentored work that makes a difference in our community and our world.

My responsibility for campus-wide undergraduate research programs at UMBC allows me to work with these and other engaged students as they develop and carry out independent research, scholarship, and creative work. Through promoting undergraduate research programs I am able to help students as they become creators of new knowledge, authors of their own educations, and actors in the world around us.

These last days of the fall semester are a key time for students thinking about applying for university funding to support their research/creative work. The Undergraduate Research Awards (URA) program provides up to $1,500 to a student or group to support independent research, scholarship, or creative work.

Students who may be interested in the URA program should let me know right away. My role includes helping students to identify a faculty mentor, define a research question, plan the methods of investigation, describe how they will evaluate the project, and draft a strong two-page funding proposal. In the current academic year, students are funded for independent work in 20 different majors from Anthropology to Visual Arts.

I encourage students to follow their passions and take the initiative to begin independent projects. In the course of creating and carrying out a research or creative project, students:

  • apply classroom learning to the real world,
  • find out whether the real work of the major/field is what they really want to do,
  • work on an important problem,
  • collaborate closely with a faculty mentor, establishing a strong relationship,
  • prepare for the research expectations of graduate school,
  • develop a personal accomplishment to share with a potential employer, and
  • reinforce content learned in a course.

Who seeks out such a project? Transfer students, freshmen, and upper-class students. Artists, scientists, and students still figuring out what they want to study. Students with strong academic records and students who want to add meaning to their studies, giving them a reason to improve learning and grades. Students who want to handle a small part of a much larger project or experiment and those with their own plan for exactly what they will explore.

When do students do independent research, scholarship, or creative work? During the academic year or in the summer. In a concentrated project during Winter Session. As part of a formal academic course, for independent study credit, for a zero-credit transcript notation, for pay, or some combination.

If you are a UMBC undergraduate, let undergraduate research be a part of breaking ground in your education. Join the Undergraduate Research group on myUMBC.

Contact the author, Janet McGlynn, at


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