Research News

Summer Research Program Puts Theory into Practice

Northwestern undergraduates take part in IPR summer research assistants program


SURA

Elizabeth Diamond (center), an IPR Summer Undergraduate Research Assistant, reviews research results with her advisor, IPR associate Ellen Wartella (standing) and graduate student Alexis Lauricella.

“What do we know and how do we know it?” These are the big questions that IPR’s Summer Undergraduate Research Assistants (SURA) program helps students unpack, according to IPR education researcher and SURA director James Rosenbaum.

Each summer, SURA pairs Northwestern undergraduate students with IPR faculty to collaborate on faculty research projects. This year’s program matched 37 undergraduates with 31 faculty members to study social science issues ranging from congressional gridlock to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

Rosenbaum stressed that SURA’s collaborative design provides students with hands-on research experience that they might not get in the classroom.

“We can teach about reliability and validity, and we can talk a little bit about the problems of causal inference and methodology,” he said. “But to really understand what’s involved and what needs to be done, you have to do [research].” 

Isabella Pinerua, a senior majoring in mathematics, is working with social policy professor and IPR associate Cynthia Coburn to study changes in students’ math coherency from preschool to grade school. She echoed Rosenbaum’s point.

“I thought research had to be theoretical,” she said. “This project with Professor Coburn gave me an idea of how research can be quantitative, but also have human and social components.”

Pinerua, who “wasn’t thinking about research before this summer,” said that she hopes to use what she’s learned through SURA to pursue a career in mathematical research.

Fellow Northwestern undergraduate Elizabeth Diamond, a junior studying human development and psychological services, said participating in SURA has sparked an interest in leading her own research project next year.

Diamond spent the summer working in the Center on Media and Human Development, led by communications studies researcher and IPR associate Ellen Wartella, looking at issues such as how parents use media to teach their children STEM content. 

Next summer, Diamond hopes to secure an undergraduate research grant to conduct her own study that “bridges the gap between human development and communication.”

While many students find SURA a catalyst to conducting further research, Rosenbaum stressed that the program benefits students across fields and areas of interest. 

What students learn in SURA is “relevant if students decide they want to go into research or get an advanced degree in the social sciences, but it’s also useful in other fields,” he said, noting the importance of social science research in fields ranging from law to medicine.

James Rosenbaum is professor of education and social policy and an IPR fellow. For more information about the 2017 SURA students, visit our webpage.