Honors Summer Undergraduate Research Program

The Honors College cultivates a community of students and faculty focused on collaborative research that goes beyond the typical undergraduate experience. To that end, the Honors Summer Undergraduate Research Program is an opportunity for you to work one-on-one with a faculty mentor and participate in professional development workshops throughout the summer, as well as engage in research projects for independent study.

The summer research program addresses a number of research concepts, including seminars and workshops that focus on

  • Research and writing skills
  • Cultural and educational activities
  • Strategies for increasing success when applying to graduate school
  • Strategies for increasing success in participating in undergraduate research conferences and publishing research

Research projects cover a broad range of disciplines and students may apply to a maximum of three projects. Please review all project titles and their descriptions before beginning the application. All participants are expected to be available for nine weeks and to attend all program-related activities, including weekly workshops, seminars and social events. On-campus housing is included. 

HSURP runs May 18-July 17, 2020. A $2,500 stipend is provided to each student in three installments over the eight-week program; a small portion of the stipend will be withheld until the presentation requirement is fulfilled. The stipend helps with the cost of meals and incidental expenses. The Honors Summer Undergraduate Research Program is made possible through the generous support of the Virginia Commonwealth University Office of the Provost.

The priority application deadline is Friday, March 13, 2020. Access the application via the Honors application portal here.  

2019 HSURP Projects

Analyzing Spirituality and Values through a Cultural Lens: A Ghana Case Study

Dr. Dzokoto, Department of African American StudiesDescription

Societal values are rarely explicit. Scandals that make the news draw attention to the rules that societies expect their members to uphold. This project is focused on documenting and measuring societal values in an urban city in West African. Students will contribute to the different studies associated with this project, working with collected data, and can choose one study for their own research experiences.


Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in the James River

Dr. Franklin, Department of Biology

The heavy use of antibiotics in the medical, veterinary, and agricultural fields has led to increased natural selection of antibiotic resistant bacteria.  While antibiotic resistance is most often studied in medical settings, there is growing concern about the spread of resistant organisms to the natural environment. This research examines the diversity and abundance of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the James River to identity the anthropogenic sources and determine public health risk.


Assessing the Antidepressant-Like Effects of the Ketamine Metabolite, (2R,6R)-Hydroxynorketamine (HNK), and Ketamine Isomers in C57BL/6 Mice

Dr. Porter, Department of Psychology

This project will determine if the ketamine metabolite, (2R,6R)-hydroxynorketamine (HNK), and ketamine isomers display antidepressant-like activity (as has been shown with ketamine) in C57BL/6 mice. Several different behavioral assays will be used.


Companion Animals in the Context of LGBTQ+ Youth Wellbeing

Dr. McDonald, School of Social Work

The goal of this mixed-methods study is to understand whether and to what extent human-animal interaction (bonds with pets, attachment to pets) moderates associations between victimization experiences and mental health in LGBTQQIA+ youth.


Cultural Processes and Adjustment Among Latinx and African American College Students and Adolescents

Dr. Corona, Department of Psychology

We have a few projects in our lab that are focused on health promotion among Latinx and African American college students and adolescents. Students will contribute to the different studies and can choose one study for their own research experiences.


Development of Augmented Reality Applications for Planning Complex Surgical Procedures

Dr. Wijesinghe, School of Pharmacy

Great advances have been made in the field of medical imaging over the past decade. The instrumentation nowadays allow for greater resolution and faster imaging thereby greatly increasing their value in diagnosis as well as surgical planning. However, the advances made in instrumentation has not been mirrored in advances in visualization of medical imaging beyond that of increased resolution of the monitors in which the images are displayed. The project involves research towards developing 3D holographic anatomical models from patient CT and MRI scans that allows better planning of complex surgical procedures.


Development of a Catalytic Platform to Access Gem-Diborylcyclopropanes

Dr. Kelly, Department of Chemistry

Sustainability is an important consideration in many industrial sectors and is paramount within the chemical community. One practical means of achieving this goal is through catalysis. Although more sustainable from an energy standpoint, so-called photoredox catalysis is still in its adolescence and, to be more comparable to traditional catalytic paradigms, requires further refinement. The overarching goal of this proposal is to devise and develop strategies to fill this methodological gap.


Quantifying the Effect of Neurological Movement Disorders, Mild Traumatic Brain Injury and Other Deficits Through Eye Movement Recording and Analysis

Dr. Wetzel, College of Engineering

Eye movements serve to control and stabilize the eyes under a wide variety of conditions.  These movements are believed to originate from specialized areas of the brain and appear to be highly sensitive to certain neurological diseases, injuries to the brain as well as other deficits and disorders.  Saccadic, smooth eye movements, pupillary response and fixation characteristics will be collected and analyzed in response to a variety of visual tasks including reading.


Pharmacy on Demand-Modular Mobile Production of Pharmaceuticals on a Small and Reconfigurable Platform

Dr. Roper, College of Chemical and Life Science Engineering

The project objective is to prepare the antibiotic, ciprofloxacin, in the Pharmacy on demand equipment.  Our goal is to produce 1000 tablets per day, beginning from simple chemical raw materials.  The overall team will develop the information required to file a marketing application.  Significant work is required both in the engineering, chemistry, analysis, and formulation sciences. With this project, we are looking to fill three undergraduate researcher positions.


Synthesis of Mixed-Metal Alloy Nanoparticles by Ultrashort Laser Irradiation

Dr. Tibbetts, Department of Chemistry

In this project, the student will synthesize mixed-metal nanoparticles containing Au, Ag, and Cu via photochemical reduction of metal salts using a femtosecond laser. The student will characterize the reaction kinetics and nanoparticle properties, and measure their catalytic activity.


Trauma, Child Development, and Youth Drug Use

Dr. Sunny Shin, School of Social Work

The Innovation in Child and Family Wellness (Innovative Wellness) group seeks undergraduate research assistants to work on exciting projects focusing on trauma, child development, and addiction. The research assistant will join a vibrant research team to offer innovative solutions to prevent adverse childhood experiences and promote child and family well-being through the development and dissemination of empirically-based knowledge, practice, and policy.

  • Students must be in good standing with the Honors College
  • Current students who have at least one semester remaining at VCU may apply
  • Students cannot be under any disciplinary action with VCU

Upon receiving an offer from HSURP, students sign an agreement to fulfill the following requirements:

  • To devote full effort to conducting the HSURP project; students must disclose plans to take summer courses, hold a job, or any involvement in activities that may conflict with HSURP before accepting the offer
  • To update digital time sheets, detailing work done on a day-to-day basis
  • To regularly update a blog outlining your experience with your research and your progress in the program
  • To submit two written assignments, one halfway through and one at the completion of the program
  • To participate in weekly workshops, group meetings, social activities, etc.
  • To give an oral presentation about your work during the final week of the program
  • To participate in VCU’s annual Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity, or another conference of your choosing

A vital part of the application process is the interaction between student and mentor. This is the best time to find out more information about the project, mentor expectations and your role as a researcher. During the interview, you should discuss what you would like to gain from the research experience, including whether the project is suitable for you to meet your presentation requirement (undergraduate research conferences sponsored by VCU, the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, the National Collegiate Honors Council, etc.), as well as any time commitments that will prohibit or limit your involvement in the project.