Summer Program Provides Transformational Education and Leadership Development

Though many students and faculty leave campus for the summer, the pause in classes provides an opportunity for students to further hone and develop their academic and leadership skills and experiences or receive the supplemental support they need to succeed in their academic programs. In turn, faculty members spend more time and make deeper connections with students looking to continue their transformational education experience through the summer. Two such programs where students thrive and grow between academic years are the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP). 

Each summer, several Vanguard University faculty invite students to apply for the nine-week summer intensive research immersion experience that assists faculty and students who are engaged in research, scholarship, and creative activity. SURP promotes cross-disciplinary partnerships that engages students, empowers collaboration, and promotes the achievements of all such scholarship. 

This summer, 15 student researchers gained knowledge and skills within the disciplines of biology, chemistry, history and political science, psychology, and sociology. After conducting their experiments, students presented their preliminary findings at the 2022 SURP Poster Symposium for a panel of faculty and staff judges. 

The panel selected Kevin Vitwar, a senior engineering physics major, as the Best Oral Presentation, and senior biology major Britney Aguilar earned Best Poster. Zara Escamilla, a senior sociology major, was identified as having the Best Research for her study with Dr. Alex Lin, which showed that cultural orientation is an indicator of parental involvement and the perception of benefits of organized activities for Mexican-origin parents. 

“SURP provided me with the mentorship I needed to apply my knowledge to a real research project,” said Escamilla. She hopes to use her findings to provide pathways to increase Latino youth participation in organized activities while addressing the necessity of access, evaluation, and support for such programs and their outreach to Latino youth. “I learned to process qualitative and quantitative data through a scientific lens while understanding that these are people’s stories and pieces of society. It was a unique opportunity that challenged and sharpened my critical thinking skills, my curiosity, and my motivation to continue researching and proposing solutions.”   

SURP is led by Dr. Michael Hanna and Dr. Hien Park. They were joined this year by four additional faculty mentors who supported this undergraduate research experiential learning opportunity: Dr. Julius Agbor, Dr. Itzel Calleja-Macias, Dr. Alex Lin, and Dr. Ted Lorance.    

“SURP helps students think critically,” said Dr. Hanna. “Having students come up with their own research design and study allows them to analyze potential limitations and how to address these limitations. It also helps them develop better oral presentation skills and analytical skills.”  

The summer program offers an opportunity for students to act as experts in their fields, presenting their research to a panel of faculty and staff, and then answering probing questions. Though challenging to Dr. Hanna, he understands the value of this experiential experience.  

“When seeing anyone struggle, it is instinctual for me to want to come in and save the day during their presentation,” said Dr. Hanna. “There were several times I wanted to interrupt and jump in mid-conversation as they were struggling to answer a question or explain a concept. Though it took some self-restraint, it was highly beneficial for the students to struggle with the material and find ways to answer questions. SURP has helped me recognize and better assess when to step in and provide support and when to leave students to struggle.”