Nearly 30 years in the making, Butler University’s Undergraduate Research Program is widely recognized as one of the nation’s best. “Longevity and a cohesive program make us stand out,” said Dacia Charlesworth, who oversees Butler’s program. “All facets of undergraduate research opportunities are merged at Butler year-round, which is rare to find. Other universities divide their research program into departments.” Each spring, Butler hosts an annual Undergraduate Research Conference (URC), one of the largest in the country, and Butler students compete for 30 spots in the immersive Butler Summer Institute (BSI), for focused research on projects in any discipline.
With more societal influences affecting science, and an interdisciplinary approach, there are no barriers to research topics. There’s traditional lab work, and experiential learning that’s an extension of the classroom. Butler research students have studied the development of butterfly wings, how to prevent the fading of color in pieces at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the behaviors and attitudes of pre-pharmacists toward HIV and AIDS patients, and even confessional poetry. “It’s the integration of our mission statement,” said Charlesworth. “We put Liberal Arts and professional programs together and demonstrate to the community how they can help.”
Students are encouraged to present and share their results with others, with Travel to Present and Honors Thesis Grants contributing to Butler’s national exposure. It’s not enough to conduct the research. Butler coaches presentation skills, with students learning to avoid jargon so their research is more relatable and significant to a general audience. End-of-year reports and an active Twitter feed (@ TheButlerURC) boost awareness of Butler’s program. The 2016 Undergraduate Research Conference drew more than 900 people, an increase of 200 participants from the previous year, despite a trimmed promotional budget and slight fee hike. This year for the first time, there will be a new presentation category with cash awards, to add a tier of competition to the URC.
Charlesworth has held the title of Butler’s Director of Undergraduate Research and Prestigious Scholarships for about a year and a half, and has an infectious enthusiasm about her job. She tells prospective students and their parents, “Look at other universities and see if they have a position like mine. Most universities don’t. It sets Butler apart, having an all-inclusive program, and someone who can identify top scholarships for student researchers.”