At the same time that “real-world” positions are becoming harder and harder to find, constrained college budgets around the country have made it difficult to expand on-campus research opportunities, leaving some students with nowhere to turn to find coveted work experience. At Pomona, the waitlisting and rejection of a number of Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) applications this year was another reminder that demand for this program has increasingly outpaced supply—an issue that has some college alumni and administrators pushing to expand the program.
Budgetary instability within the SURP program, which allows students to conduct research over the summer in cooperation with a Pomona faculty member, has caused yearly fluctuations in the number of opportunities available to students, according to Vice President and Dean of the College Cecilia Conrad. According to Conrad, the school hopes “to stablize and expand the funding available” for the program.
“We’d like to know that we can consistently fund a certain number every year,” Conrad said.
The attempt to increase access to SURPs is a component of the Daring Minds Campaign, a comprehensive fundraising campaign initiated at the beginning of this school year.
To limit the number of SURP applications that are waitlisted or denied, Senior Director of Communications Mark Wood said his department has been making a special effort to attract donations from alumni for SURP grants.
“We’re looking for ways to remind younger alums that the things they cared about are the same things students care about now,” Wood said.
He emphasized that SURP is a major component of the fundraising campaign.
“The overall message is that we're really focusing in on SURPs,” he said. “We're trying to focus on specific things, rather than taking the broader approach we've taken in the past.”
A key aspect of this advertising, Wood explained, is to “get the word out on the web about what SURPs are, why they're important, how they're funded, and why alumni should care about them.”
According to Wood, although SURPs have traditionally been geared toward research in the sciences, SURPs fund research across all disciplines.
Pomona's SURP web page lists examples of recent projects in several different departments, including “An Investigation of Holocaust Education in Argentina” in the anthropology department and “The Afro-Caribbean Religious Roots of Caribbean Pop and Folk Music” in the music department.
“It's not your father’s SURP,” Wood said.
Another aspect of the focused campaign is the Young Alumni Challenge, which offers to match alumni donations dollar-for dollar during the month of April.
“It’s good pedagogy for students to do hands-on research, in addition to being great for our faculty, who don’t have graduate students to do the type of research that student undergraduates can do through this program,” Conrad said. “The SURPS program is a program that is core to Pomona’s identity.”