UROP Enrollment Recovers This TermBy Orli G. Bahcall
Associate News Editor
After two years of decline, there are signs that the level of participation in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program has begun to increase.
UROP enrollment dropped significantly after a 1994 change in federal regulations that cut funding for the program by forcing the Institute to charge for employee benefits against UROP funds. While the program saw an increase in undergraduates working for credit, its overall participation dropped by about 25 percent.
While the final tallies for this year's UROP program will not be known until the end of the semester, UROP officials say that the program has seen the number of participants grow this semester.
During the fall semester of 1995, UROP participation was just under a 1,000 students. This year, the UROP office predicts that over 1,000 students have UROP projects, said Director of UROP Norma McGavern.
McGavern called the increased participation encouraging and said that it reflected the positive direction that the UROP program is taking in recovering from funding problems. However, while "things are on the upswing, it will take a while before UROP levels return to the pre-1994 levels," McGavern said.
The UROP office still often faces situations "where faculty would like to ask for a group of students but can only ask for one or two" because of a lack of funding, McGavern said. "We also still have to be very miserly in support of material requests."
Overall, however, McGavern said that the future looks bright. "I'm pretty optimistic. [I am] seeing very good signs, such as funding from alumni that has increased in the past year," she said.
Alumni contributions go to increase MIT's endowment to the program. Since the UROP program receives money from the interest in this endowment, "it is taking some time to build up the capital to make a difference in the program," McGavern said.
The Undergraduate Corporate Research Program, still in its infancy, is beginning to help the troubled UROP program. UCRP, founded to bring more funding to UROP students, finances its students directly.
While this program is still small, funding just a handful of students, UROP provides an important service to UROP students, McGavern said.
"This is additional money for the students and MIT. The program is successful in that both sides have been happy with the experience."
"I think the UROP office has been relatively pleasantly surprised that has not been a big drop off" in enrollment this year, said UROPCoordinator for the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Richard D. Thornton '54, professor of EECS.
The total number of UROPstudents in the EECS has been decreasing for several years now, Thornton said. Current students do UROP primarily for credit.
The UROPprogram provides great opportunity for EECS undergraduates, Thornton said. Over half of all EECS students take part in the UROPprogram sometime during their undergraduate careers, he said.
Faculty in the department have "always depended upon UROP students working with them to design and test projects," Thornton said. These experiences lend valuable research experience to undergraduates that often leads to more advanced work.
While the amount of UROP funding is still a limiting factor in bringing undergraduates into these projects, "there are always more projects to be done," Thornton said.