Three faculty members were honored recently for their exceptional efforts to create an enriching and supportive undergraduate research experience for students.

Valerie Sims, an associate professor of psychology and Michael Rovito, an assistant professor of health sciences, were honored with the 2020 Champion of Undergraduate Research Award. Chase Mason, an assistant professor of biology, was named the 2020 Undergraduate Research Faculty Mentor of the Year.

“The Office of Undergraduate Research annually recognizes the winners because of their commitment to share their knowledge and meaningful engage undergraduates in their field of study,” says Kim Schneider, assistant dean and director of OUR. “Our office’s mission is to provide research learning experiences that allow students to acquire highly sought-after transferable skills that will make them competitive graduate school and job applicants. Faculty are a key to providing students with these educational experiences.”

Engagement in undergraduate research is on the rise; participation increased by nearly 19 percent in 2018-19. Students present at national conferences and poster showcases. Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship participants are engaged in research regarding COVID-19.

Champion of Undergraduate Research Award

The Champion of Undergraduate Research Award honors faculty members who influence UCF’s research culture, support student researchers, and meaningfully engage them in their research agendas. The Council of Undergraduate Research selects the recipients.

Sims’ passion for research began as an undergraduate at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.

“I knew that I wanted to participate in a psychology research project, but didn’t know how to get started,” says Sims. “Fortunately, one of my professors noticed and helped me get involved.”

Today, Sims is paying it forward. For more than 10 years she has encouraged UCF’s undergraduates to explore what interests them. She stresses that research goes beyond the sciences.

Sims is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology. Her lab, the Applied Cognition and Technology lab, has current research projects that include cognitive load theory and higher education and human-computer interaction.

“As faculty members, we need to be relatable to our students and be willing to share our knowledge.”

“Asking a faculty member to participate in their research is intimidating,” says Sims. “As faculty members, we need to be relatable to our students and be willing to share our knowledge. We need to remember what it’s like to be an undergraduate.”

Rovito, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Sciences, shares Sims’ belief in the importance of faculty and student relationships.

He was instrumental in introducing Research Intensive courses at UCF. They are curriculum-based research experiences that include common learning outcomes and culminate in a research or creative scholarship project.

“We need to recognize that students want to contribute to our fields of study,” says Rovito.

When told he was selected as a Champion of Undergraduate Research, his reaction was student-focused.

“I’m most excited for the students I mentored over the years,” said Rovito. “It is really because of their work ethic that I received this recognition.”

Undergraduate Research Faculty Mentor of the Year

Undergraduate researchers nominate faculty members who have provided them with mentorship and guidance to succeed academically. The Student Undergraduate Research Council selects the recipient.

Mason, this year’s recipient, is an assistant professor in the Department of Biology. Undergraduate researcher Mari Irving nominated Mason.

In her nomination, she wrote, “His untiring patience, passion, and genuine care for his students make him a mentor like no other.”

Under Mason’s mentorship, Irving has presented her research at conferences, including the Botany 2019 conference in Tucson, Arizona.

To Mason, working with undergraduate researchers is a meaningful aspect of his job.

“I’m incredibly lucky to be able to work with such talented and motivated students at UCF,” says Mason.

Visit the OUR website to learn more about undergraduate research opportunities.