Early birds

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Interns to Scholars program provides undergrads with research opportunities.

Araceli Olivas performed research. While this word might call to mind white lab coats and test tubes, her research – and much of the work being done by other undergraduates at Northern Arizona University – wasn’t done in a lab. Through the Interns to Scholars (I2S) program, Olivas studied middle school physical education lessons – and took her education to a new level.

The I2S program was created to provide freshmen and sophomores with their first research opportunities and internships. To be eligible for the program, students must have between 15 NAU credit hours and 75 total credit hours.

Olivas, a senior public health major, was one of 22 students who participated in the program during its first year. I2S takes students from every corner and college of Northern Arizona University and places them in research internships with faculty. Olivas assisted Dr. Meghan Warren, who teaches in the physical therapy department, with an inquiry that looks at expanding physical education lessons – such as mountain biking – beyond just the physical aspect.

“We compared the normal mountain biking lesson to a different type of education, where it's not only about practicing mountain biking, but also about taking care of the bike and learning how to read trails,” Warren explains. “We’re looking at helping them increase their efficacy, in addition to their skills.”

Olivas performed most of the number-crunching involved with the project over the course of her internship. She says this experience culminated in her participating in the university-wide Undergraduate Symposium and improved her candidacy for larger internships in the future.

“I compared answers between the boys and the girls, while looking at different races, their prior physical activity, and their levels of motivation,” Olivas says. “We then displayed those results on a poster at the Symposium. This experience was really valuable and definitely prepared me for other internships.”

Calling all freshmen (and sophomores)

MaryLynn Quartaroli is the Undergraduate Research Coordinator for Northern Arizona University, and heads the I2S program. She explains that enabling freshmen and sophomores to get involved with faculty-led research can provide students a significant advantage, both in the classroom and in other internships to follow.

“We provide up to six hours a week for twelve weeks during a semester to support student work,” Quartaroli says. “It's a faculty project they’re working on, not their own. In that way, they get an introduction to research in the discipline and also in the process of how this kind of work happens.”

Quartaroli is quick to point out that not all of the students’ research involves test tubes and thermometers. Olivas’ work centered on the social sciences, and Quartaroli explains research can take many different forms and happen in any field at the university.

“We have broadened our definition of research,” Quartaroli says. “It can be whatever contributes to your discipline. How can you make a business plan without doing research? You need to do legwork and study in order to create a business plan, a marketing plan, or a design.”

Quartaroli says that in addition to receiving financial compensation for their work, students have the benefit of learning skills early that can supplement their coursework.

“You take what you learn in your classes and you apply it,” Quartaroli says. “But you also learn things outside of the classroom that make your classes easier, because now you have more skills and more knowledge.”

Moving further

Now in her final year at Northern Arizona University, Olivas is confident in the path she’s going to pursue after graduation thanks to her time with the program.

“I have always been really interested in research,” Olivas says. “While the data entry was tedious, I understand why it was necessary. I know in my career I will be doing research. Through the I2S program, I learned how precise I need to be, and that we, as researchers, need to do multiple checks to make sure everything is correct.”

Olivas is thankful for the experience she earned through the I2S program, and recommends that students be proactive in expanding their own education beyond the classroom.

“I found the I2S program while searching through the Undergraduate Admissions Facebook page,” Olivas says. “There are so many different opportunities – there's nearly one in every major. Coming into it, I didn't know how beneficial it was going to be. I’m really grateful for the opportunity.”