A one-year anniversary of research

By Kyle Hobstetter on July 24, 2018

Towson University’s Undergraduate Research Club caps off first year by presenting at national conference

Towson Undergraduate Research Club
Towson University Undergraduate Research Club representatives Rhiannon Napoli, Lauren Cahalan, Bethany Pace and Alison McCartney smile after presentation at the Council on Undergraduate Research's Biennial Conference in Crystal City, Va. 

The Towson University Undergraduate Research Club (URC) started as a small idea to interest TU’s undergraduate population in completing research.

But as the club reaches its one-year anniversary, it has become a perfect example of what students can do when given resources. It has other universities taking notice as well.

That’s why on July 1, a contingent of the URC presented at the 2018 Council on Undergraduate Research’s (CUR) Biennial Conference in Crystal City, Va.

The presenting group featured co-advisors Bethany Pace, assistant provost for communication and engagement; Rhiannon Napoli, director of co-curricular and constituent relationships in the Honors College; and Alison McCartney, Ph.D., faculty director of the Honors College.

The contingent also included former club president Lauren Cahalan ’18, who graduated in May with dual degrees in economics and political science. Cahalan, now a research analyst at Brown Advisory, couldn’t wait to talk about TU’s growing research club.

“Research was something important to my life. So, it was great to see administrators and faculty from other universities listen to my perspective of how we started this club,” said Cahalan.

When applying to present at the conference, the TU contingent saw that CUR was focusing more on inclusiveness — especially on the idea of making undergraduate research more approachable for students from all disciplines.

The group also saw there was a lack of student-led undergraduate research clubs at other universities. So, they felt their presentation would fit right in at the conference. According to Napoli, the audience agreed.

“It was really exciting to see how much enthusiasm there was for this type of work,” Napoli said. “Not many schools have a student-driven club where the students teaching and mentoring each other. It was exciting to share that with our colleagues and for and them to be receptive of it.”

While the club started during the 2017 fall academic term, it had been in discussion for a few years. With help from Student Affairs, New Student and Family Programs, the Student Government Association and the Committee of Undergraduate Research and Creative Inquiry, the three advisers pushed to form the URC.

The club was featured during the Welcome to TU new student welcome event, as well as the Fall Involvement Fair. The club also hosted a “Nerd Night” where students could bond over their braininess. These events also allowed students who were already doing research to share their experience with a larger audience.

“I think often times students are excited about the idea, but they are not sure where to start,” Napoli said. “I think that’s what makes the club great. It makes research accessible for them. They are hearing from their peers and hearing from upper-level students on how they made it happen.”

According to the advisers, having students available to share their experience is a huge advantage for TU.

Another is students having access to experienced faculty right as they begin taking classes. And while Pace jokes she’s a little jealous of this opportunity, she hopes the club will help prepare students to build relationships with those faculty members. 

“I went to a large university, which I love, but I didn’t see a legitimate professor my first year,” Pace said with a laugh. “Students at TU are advantaged in the way they begin interacting with a faculty right as they walk through the door.

“This club provides them the opportunity to build the skills they need to develop the relationships that lead to the research and maybe even to publishing an article with a faculty member.”

The club will continue during the fall with new student leadership — all coming from different disciplines from across campus. And while the three advisers are excited for the upcoming year, they know they will need some help if they want to see undergraduate research flourish across campus.

That means helping to communicate the importance of undergraduate research to the entire university community.

“We want to show that this is a valuable and wonderful experience you can have a TU,” Pace said. “From my perspective, our next step institutionally is to make sure this club—and the value of undergraduate research—is integrated into the message of the institution and our brand.”

And while Cahalan is continuing her research in the professional sector, she’s excited to see the club continue to evolve. She also has complete faith that Pace, McCartney and Napoli will continue to provide the best for TU students.

“The three of them are the most incredible people I met,” Cahalan said. “They want the best for every student they come in contact with. Looking to my right and left and seeing these amazing human beings, it was just amazing being able to present with them.”