Kate Gustafson is one of seven members of Marquette’s inaugural class of MU4Gold Scholars, a pilot program run jointly by the University Honors Program and the College of Arts and Sciences that focuses on engaging students in faculty-mentored research from their first moments on campus.
As an MU4Gold scholar, Gustafson spent her first semester at Marquette learning the research ropes in a special freshman seminar led by A&S associate dean Rosemary Stuart. In the spring, she chose a faculty mentor and joined her team.
A double major in psychology and sociology, Gustafson sat down with five psychology professors to discuss their research interests, and eventually chose Dr. Nakia Gordon as her research mentor. The process is reminiscent of a Greek life rush week: “She had to pick me, but I also got to pick her,” Gustafson says.
During the spring semester, she began working in Dr. Gordon’s lab researching the impact of police brutality on race relations (seeing whether viewing images of police brutality makes subjects more or less willing to interact with a stranger of a different race, for example). Some of her peers in the program are already working one-on-one with their faculty mentors, a phenomenon that’s virtually unheard of for a first-year student.
Expected future milestones are equally ambitious: next semester, they’ll take a course on writing research proposals and grants. And then the expectation is for the young scholars to go forward and conduct their own research project. “I don’t think I would have ever thought about doing research on my own,” Gustafson, who has already designed and presented a research poster, says.
MU4Gold’s goals are two-fold. First, it’s to test the hypothesis that the promise of an early introduction to faculty mentored research can help draw academically high-achieving students to Marquette. (The program is currently funded by a three-year grant from the Innovation Fund, with the goal of achieving more permanent funding.) For Gustafson, a valedictorian and summa cum laude graduate of her high school class, that was definitely the case, with MU4Gold helping to firm up her decision to attend Marquette.
The other goal is to foster undergraduates’ interest in research at the beginning of their college career, rather than near the end. Undergraduates often develop a passion for research relatively late in their college career, says Dr. Amelia Zurcher, associate professor of English, University Honors Program director and an architect of the program. As she explained in an article in Marquette’s Discover magazine, by the time students learn about prestigious fellowships like the Fulbright scholars program, they don’t have the time or experience that makes a competitive application. And it’s not all about applying for fellowships—the earlier a student starts research, the farther he or she can take it. MU4Gold aims to give students both the chance to engage in research earlier, and the training and faculty connections to make it happen. It’s an opportunity that few undergraduates, especially freshmen, have.
In that sense, for Gustafson, the program has been an absolute success. “I don’t think I would have thought about [fellowship opportunities] had I not been in this program,” she says. MU4Gold even piqued Gustafon’s interest in pursuing smaller-scale summer research during her upperclassman years, and has become a significant part of her experience at Marquette.
“I’m definitely glad that I ended up here,” she says of Marquette, citing close professor connections and an engagement with research that’s far beyond that of her peers, even those in the Honors Program. “Being in MU4Gold and having these mentors early on has helped me find a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t have elsewhere.”