The Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) was originally developed in 1988 to increase the retention and improve the academic performance of underrepresented minority students at the University of Michigan. The original program was based, in part, on the critical observation that minority students do not identify with the intellectual mission of the university as advantaged students do and that this lack of identification leads to higher attrition rates for minority students. UROP was also developed to engage lower division students at the University of Michigan more directly with faculty so they can benefit from the wealth of research activity taking place at the University and perhaps foster more interest in research related or academic careers. Since its inception UROP has become a national model for how research universities can enrich the education of undergraduates by making it possible for them to become actively involved in the research enterprise. The kind of experience UROP provides for students could only happen at a large university that values undergraduate education. In 2002 U.S. News and World Report ranked UROP Number 1 in the category, Undergraduate Research/Creative Projects. UROP has consistently ranked at the top of this category in the ensuing years.
Only a few years after its inception in 1988, UROP introduced seminars and peer facilitators as a program component. Seminars and Peer Facilitators are meant to monitor student progress, expose them to new research skills, contribute to their professional development, as well as create a diverse community of young researchers. Although UROP was designed as a program for first- and second-year students, there was some sense that juniors and seniors would also benefit from the research experience and in 1998, after much debate, the program was expanded to include juniors and seniors who had not been previously exposed to research. Over time, UROP assessed that more and more upper level students had become highly exposed to research with the exception of one group: students transferring from community colleges. Thus, in 2010, UROP initiated the Changing Gears program designed to cater solely to the needs and concerns of community college transferring students. In the span of less than a decade, UROP grew from a small program of 15 students and faculty to 700 students working on 500 projects across a multitude of disciplines. Over 1300 students participate in UROP today.