On April 19th, the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) Symposium was held in the Michigan Union’s Michigan Ballroom. The UROP was started in 1988 as a way of promoting the academic success of diverse first and second-year undergraduate students by allowing them to participate in faculty research.  

Over one thousand research posters were represented at this year’s symposium – proof that the UROP’s initial endeavor still lives on. Among this year’s posters were those presented by student mentees of our very own Department of Anthropology faculty, including Professors Jason De Leon, Kelly Askew, and Elizabeth Roberts. Their UROP mentees enthusiastically shared their experiences in the program. 

Undergraduate sophomore, Ali Momar, participated in the program this year.  The University of Michigan public policy major is being mentored by Professor Kelly Askew. Pleasantly surprised that the program was not just about reading and researching in books, Ali learned about collecting data, reading blog posts and articles, learning new IT, bibliographic and GIS programs for data collection and dissemination, and conducting research in an organized way. Through weekly meetings with Professor Askew, he also learned a lot about professional development. 

Professor Roberts was especially excited to also share her experiences as a UROP mentor.  “I had a fantastic first year!”  This sums up the UROP program, this year, for Professor Roberts who mentors University of Michigan freshmen, Josue Toledo and Meghann Ibarra.  Being introduced to UROP was a significant part of his freshman experience.  Josue’s undergraduate advisor suggested that he apply to various subject areas within UROP and interview with faculty who expressed interest in him.  As a result, first-time mentor in the program, Professor Roberts, became Josue’s mentor, where she met with him and Meghann, on a weekly basis. 

Pensively, Josue expressed that UROP is like an organization. “We have weekly meetings and discuss research methods.”  He has received tremendous insight into biological and ethnographic data. He eagerly assisted Professor Roberts with coding data collected from field notes for their project, Mexican Exposure: Bio-Ethnography with Six Mexican Families. One of the goals of the project is to examine the daily lives of Mexican families and how these behaviors impact their health.  An observation that was made during their research is that many Mexican families cook with lead-contaminated pots. The research that Roberts and her team conducted sought to analyze why these pots continue to have a meaningful place in the lives of Mexican families.  When looking at this, a major question that began to surface was: what are Mexican’s attitudes towards their environment.

While Professor Roberts learned about how to integrate students into her research, Josue has expressed that he is truly appreciative for Professor Roberts’ mentorship.  He hopes to incorporate many of the lessons he’s learned in the program into his neuroscience major. 

Before starting UROP, under the mentorship of Professor Jason De Leon, Adrianna Dixon (freshman) expected to walk into a structured lab atmosphere; however, her experience was quite the opposite. “Professor De Leon’s lab was social, friendly, and productive.” Adrianna continued, “We learned these weird terms: Ethnology and Anthropology.”   These terms were foreign to her at the beginning of her UROP experience, but now, Adrianna has an enriched understanding of them thanks to Professor De Leon’s mentorship.

Theresa Beckly-Amaya, a sophomore majoring in Anthropology, also shared her experience. “Professor De Leon is personable. He helped answer questions about other classes.  I have had amazing experiences. He has instructed us on how to process photos. Theresa was also thrilled with the UROP program and has benefited greatly from the experience.  Adrianna and Theresa’s project, The View of Plan Frontera Sur from the Train Tracks can be found on Sapiens.

Overall, the UROP participants who were mentored by the Anthropology Department’s faculty learned more than they had ever predicted before entering the program. They have built new relationships with their peers and with their mentors, making for an unforgettable and career-building experience.