What is FURSCA?
The Foundation for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity (FURSCA) is a program where many of Albion College’s students, first-years especially, gain opportunities to work closely with professors and faculty members in order to create research projects of their own choosing.
FURSCA has four different programs: Semester Research Grant Program, Student Research Partners Program, Summer Research Project and the Conference Grants.
In the midst of COVID-19, FURSCA Director Vanessa McCaffrey and Assistant FURSCA DirectorRenee Kreger are working together and with others to make sure students can still take advantage of the FURSCA program despite necessary changes.
What’s changing about FURSCA?
“I think switching to the module system has really disadvantaged a lot of people in pursuing scholarships and working on these projects that they are interested in,” said McCaffrey. “It’s exhausting getting classes in, and adding anything on top of that, for most people, it was just way too much.”
With the fall semester starting off so unstable for many students, McCaffrey, alongside the FURSCA committee, decided that, this semester, it would be best to make some temporary cuts to the FURSCA program.
“So, over the past year, we used to have the Student Research Partners Program (SRPP), which took first-year students. They got paired with faculty mentors, and they got a small stipend to work on these projects,” said McCaffrey. “We decided not to run that program this year because, talking with faculty, most of them said it’s going to be way too much.”
McCaffrey said that she, Kreger and others directly involved in FURSCA decided that continuing the Student Research Partners Program would be a disservice to first-year students since they would not get the traditional one-on-one experience of the program. Students would more than likely be faced with a frustrating and overwhelming environment when attempting to complete the program.
Despite this, those who are going into their second year of their SRPP are welcomed to continue.
What’s the plan for the future of FURSCA?
FURSCA is a long-standing program, and it will have a long-standing future.
“We started looking at the data of the Student Research Partners Program. We have all of our participation data from 1999, and we are kind of giong back and looking at what the students did,” said McCaffrey. “This gave us a chance to stop, talk to the constituencies and ask what works and what doesn’t work. Could we grow FURSCA and make it more like an institute or a center?”
McCaffrey, Kreger and the FURSCA committee have proposed some changes to FURSCA and are patiently waiting to see how those changes will play out. McCaffrey, Kreger and the FURSCA committee have decided that this experience with COVID-19 has been eye-opening and will strengthen the program in the future.
“One of the things we learned over the summer is it’s important to establish and create communities online,” said McCaffrey. “What’s the best way to ensure that even though we are working a thousand miles apart that we can still check in and make sure everybody knows we are there for each other?”
Student Experiences with FURSCA
Prior to COVID-19, students’ research experiences looked moderately different than they do now. Without accommodations made for the pandemic, projects were more hands-on.
“My FURSCA experience was wonderful,” said Lauren Bergeron, a junior from Riverview, via email. “The summer of 2019 my research project was titled ‘This Insolent and Inhuman Race: White Union Soldiers’ Thoughts about White Southerners during the Civil War.’ I got the opportunity to travel to the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, MA. and the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. to conduct archival research. Previous to FURSCA, I had never been to Boston or Washington D.C. so after my work day was over I was able to explore the cities.”
Despite some changes made to accommodate the circumstances of the pandemic, students have noticed that some things remained largely the same.
“My FURSCA experience was, on the whole, not super different than it might have been [before COVID-19],” said Anthony Avouris, a senior from Kent, Ohio, via Facebook Messenger. “I was fortunate enough to be able to have space to work at home, away from my family and surrounded by the books I needed.”
Although his project didn’t undergo many significant changes, the online setting was still a different learning experience for Avouris.
“Presenting research online is different in a lot of ways, and not all of them bad,” said Avouris, “The ability to pause and go back during a presentation was really helpful, as was being able to record myself as much as I liked until I was happy. I think I did my presentation over four or five times. And Dr. McCaffrey, Renee, myself, and some other folks discussed how the online Q&A allowed more students to ask questions, while the in-person presentations tended to have question time dominated by the faculty–they’re the ones who know what to ask, especially on the fly.”
Marlo Scholten, a senior from Grand Rapids also had an insightful experience with FURSCA during COVID-19.
“I had a great advisor so I’m sure that’s colored my perspective, but I loved it,” said Scholten via Facebook Messenger. “Having the opportunity to try out independent research for the first time in a controlled and guided environment, rather than failing right out of grad school, say, has been invaluable. I learned a ton about my project, obviously, but also a ton about the logistics of research, timelines, academic presentations, and all that auxiliary stuff that you don’t really think about until it’s being asked of you for the first time.”