Undergraduate research gets renewed boost at MSU

Mackenzie Parker, an undergraduate researcher at Montana State University, runs samples for his research project funded by the Beckman Scholars Program. (MSU photo by Jay Thane).

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Mackenzie Parker, an undergraduate researcher at Montana State University, runs samples for his research project funded by the Beckman Scholars Program. (MSU photo by Jay Thane).



BOZEMAN — A national program that encourages elite undergraduate students to pursue research has been renewed for another three years at Montana State University.

MSU was one of 14 schools in the nation chosen during this round of funding to support a Beckman Scholars Program. Other institutions included Boston College, the University of Chicago, the University of Texas at Austin and Yale University.

“The MSU Beckman Scholars Program will continue through 2010, giving five MSU students $19,300 each to conduct research for two summers and the intervening academic year,” said Steven Holmgren, director of the Undergraduate Scholars Program at MSU.

The Beckman Scholars Program was established by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation in 1997. MSU was selected to participate in 2004. The program provides scholarships to advance the education, research, training and personal development of undergraduates majoring in chemistry, biochemistry, and the biological and medical sciences.

“This is a significant award,” Holmgren said. “The Beckman Foundation aims to support and encourage top tier students to become leaders in science.”

MSU’s first five Beckman Scholars were Bridgid Crowley of Helena, Shane Mangold of Columbia Falls, Tiffany Kniepkamp of Circle, Anna Burke of Bozeman and Mackenzie Parker of Colstrip. Two were selected for 2004/05, two for 2005/06 and one for 2006/07. The students worked with MSU faculty mentors and researched such topics as immunity, the central nervous system and delivering drugs to targets within the body.

“In my opinion, the Beckman Scholars Program is the finest undergraduate scholarship that is available,” said Mangold, now a graduate student in the chemistry department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Kniepkamp, who was recently accepted into the WWAMI medical school program at MSU, said, “The Beckman program held great significance for me in many ways.”

The program not only gave her the chance to study the growth of healthy brain cells when other brain cells are injured, but it allowed her to talk with two Nobel Prize winners and become friends with other students who share her goals, Kniepkamp said. She added that presenting her research to knowledgeable scientists prepared her for medical school interviews.

The Beckman program dovetails with MSU’s practice of encouraging, supporting and enhancing research opportunities for undergraduate students, Holmgren said. Approximately 1,440 students are enrolled in research courses this spring, with 274 of them working on individual research projects. Last fall, 1,371 students passed a research-designated course, and 152 of those conducted individual research projects.

“It’s good for the Undergraduate Scholars Program and also good for the university in that this award is giving a level of national recognition to the quality of our undergraduate research program at MSU,” Holmgren said of the Beckman Scholars Program. “It ties directly into the main goals of this institution — that undergraduate research is a critical component of an undergraduate education.”

To apply for the program, MSU students need to arrange ahead of time to work with an MSU mentor who is approved for the program, fill out a five-page research proposal, submit two letters of recommendation and fill out an application, Holmgren said. One important consideration is a student’s potential for becoming a leader in his or her field. For more information, contact Holmgren at (406) 994-5393 or holmgren@chemistry.montana.edu

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu