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MIT Saves Summer UROPs With $1 Million Infusion

By Ramy A. Arnaout
Associate News Editor

MIT will transfer $1 million from the endowment to the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program office in an effort to keep funding for summerUROPs close to last year's levels, according to Provost Mark S. Wrighton.

The contribution will come from funds that function as an endowment "that [have been] set aside to deal with abrupt changes in funding from research sponsors," Wrighton said.

The funds are meant to help cover the overhead and benefit costs that will be charged to most UROP wages starting July 1. These new expenses are expected to nearly double the cost of hiring a UROP student in the future.

In general, students and faculty have met Wrighton's announcement with optimism and relief. Still, they were concerned about how UROP would be funded after this summer.

"It's great news," said Carlos I. Guiterrez '96. "I thought it was going to be very hard to find [a UROP], but I think this is going to make it easier."

Although the funding will not carry over to the fall, the contribution "gives us time to plan how to deal with UROP for the fall, and next spring, and most importantly, next summer," said UROP Director Norma G. McGavern.

While the contribution may not completely offset the original costs, "it will allow us to have a normal summer, with participation as close to last summer as we can get," McGavern said. Last summer, 1,000 studennts held UROP positions. "I think it will provide encouragement to faculty not to decide too quickly to take too few UROPers," she said.

"I'm delighted," said James L. Elliot, professor of earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences. "We certainly needed something as an emergency measure so that the summer UROP wouldn't be devastated," he said.

Elliot, who heads a working committee formed by Wrighton to investigate possible solutions to the funding crisis, stressed that the contribution "won't take care of all of [the new costs], but it certainly will prevent a disaster."

Mentors advised to act soon

Wrighton advised UROP mentors to act quickly to make use of the $1 million fund. To access the new resources, mentors should "contact the UROP office and seek the matching commitment needed to offset the additional expenditures that will be required after July 1," he said. The resources will be there when the research mentor commits his funding, he said.

In turn, the UROP office will pass on contribution money as unrestricted funds, McGavern said. "Hopefully [faculty] won't be too shy about taking the number of students theyhave in the past," she said.

McGavern stressed that the availability of new funds this summer will not affect the UROP review or awards process. "We're not going to change our standards or quality. We want proposals to be reviewed carefully, not as quickly as possible," she said.

The newly available funding offers a special incentive to faculty who otherwise may not be able to afford to hire UROP students this summer, McGavern said. "We're still going to help them as much as we can," she said.

"The point is, faculty need to know" of the contribution, McGavern said.

Future funding strategies

"We must now begin to work to secure the resources needed to maintain UROP in the period beyond the summer of 1994," Wrighton said. "Unfortunately, the resources of the Institute are not sufficient to simply add the needed funding to the recurring budget of the UROP office," he said.

Instead, viable sources for new funding - including federal government agencies, corporations, foundations, and MIT graduates and friends - "will be vigorously pursued by the administration and faculty," Wrighton said.

One effort is to publicize programs, like the National Science Foundation's Research Experiences for Undergraduates. Funding for the REU program will not incur the added overhead and benefit costs.

Wages paid through the REU program are considered to be a stipend. Students in the REU program can avoid overhead charges and UROP students can not, because REU wages are considered a stipend, but UROP wages are considered salary, according to Thomas B. Duff, coordinator of the Office of Sponsored Programs. While the mode of payment is technically different from that of UROP, "there really isn't any difference for the student," he said.

Because REU fellowships are supplements to existing NSF grants held by faculty - and not new grants - they are not difficult to obtain, Elliot said.

REU grants are "not going to solve the whole problem" because they are subject to the availability of NSF funding, Elliot said. REU currently employs between 20 and 40 MIT students, Duff said.