The Foundation for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity (FURSCA), will celebrate its 20th year on Albion College’s campus.
The program is unique to Albion and different from other Albion programs because of the wide range of opportunities it offers to students to students. It was one of the first undergraduate programs in the United States to provide research opportunities for the fine arts and humanities. The money for the program comes through endowments to the college.
FURSCA has four components: its summer grant program, a first-year/second-year program that allows students to work closely with professors, funding for conference presentations and the in-semester grant program. Students can utilize FURSCA’s components twice.
The foundation is most well-known for its summer grant program, where around 20 to 40 students remain on campus through July to research into their individual projects while working one on one with a faculty member. Students receive a $3000 stipend to live on campus for ten weeks and a $500 grant to be used on their project.
Past projects include replacing the metal shields of PET scans to make them less expensive, completing a functional telescope, working on a community garden and analyzing Mexican pottery from the 14th century. Other examples include cross-cultural comparisons of perceptions of fairness in the justice system, exploration of video as an art medium and studies of the representation of women in film.
Professor Vanessa McCaffrey, associate professor of chemistry, has been the director of FURSCA for eight years.
She believes the program is important because of the way it’s impacted students’ lives.
“I’ve seen, by being the director and being part of [FURSCA’s] committee, how I can help students get into their graduate schools, get into their internship programs, based on this proposal we had them write, the feedback we gave them, seeing them defend their ideas and answer questions,” she said.
McCaffrey said she enjoys reading summer grant proposals. As FURSCA’s director, she reads every proposal. She enjoys the chance this provides her to see what students of other majors are working on.
She said that the reason FURSCA is set up to allow interests of all disciplines for a reason.
“A lot of undergraduate research programs, if you go and look at them, they’re really focused on supporting students in the sciences,” she said. “[FURSCA’s founders] decided early on that they wanted it to be inclusive across the college.”
She said about half the FURSCA students are in the sciences, but the program strongly encourages representation across the campus as a whole.
“People outside of chemistry don’t think of scholarship as research,” said McCaffrey. “They see it as creative activity. So it’s really expanded my way of thinking about how other people create knowledge and contribute to their fields. I love it. I love seeing what everyone is doing, and the students just amaze me with their ideas.”
Students also have a lot of leeway in choosing their projects, so long as the FURSCA committee approves of it.
Students can also be inspired by topics covered in their classes, as long as they are not attempting to use the program to get credit for their homework.
Once a small seed, FURSCA now blossoms
Dale Kennedy, professor of biology and the former director of FURSCA from 2000 to 2004, helped establish the program. She’s also sponsored 30 students’ projects during her involvement.
According to Kennedy, Albion’s original undergraduate research program was established in 1997, but it was only geared toward the sciences. Faculty in those departments would provide the funds for research projects through grants rather than Albion College funding the program as it does now.
Then President Mitchell, through his vision plan for the college, incorporated scholarship and creative activity in 1999.
For the first years of FURSCA, Kennedy explained, transition to a larger program was slow. But by 2004, the summer program had expanded to 84 students.
Kennedy likes that FURSCA provides exciting opportunities for the city of Albion. Many FURSCA students have developed ideas that impacted the city, such as studies of Albion’s parks and trail systems, and surveys of the town’s needs.
She believes it is a great program for all Albion students.
“A lot of students have gone through the program, and some have decided, ‘I love this,’” said Kennedy.
This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the Elkin Isaac Research Symposium, where students from FURSCA and other research opportunities, like theses projects, can present their findings to large crowds of campus community members and visitors. There are anywhere from 60 to 70 presentations over the two-day event.
The Elkin Isaac Research Symposium began as a biology program by former professor Charlie Jacobs in 1990. Each year, an alum speaker introduces the program. Elkin Isaac, who was the former athletic director at Albion College, was involved in picking the speakers in the beginning. This year, his granddaughter, who participated in FURSCA during her time at Albion, will be the keynote speaker.
This summer, FURSCA will run from May 20 to July 26.
Correction, 4/2/2019, 10:42 p.m.: A previous version of this article stated that Vanessa McCaffrey was FURSCA’s director from 2007 onward. She was actually the program’s director from 2008 to 2013, for the 2015-2016 academic year and from 2019 onward. Necessary corrections have been made.