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A Letter from Dr. Christiansen: UROP

concrete cast pumpkins
November 1, 2017

Undergraduate student research at UMD

(Image: Undergraduate and graduate research students cast concrete pumpkins made from sustainable concrete, just in time for Halloween!)

Dr. Mary ChristansenI’m honored to have been asked to share some of my experiences working with undergraduate students on research at UMD. First of all, I want to say that it is a common misconception that research can only be done by men in white lab coats and safety glasses. While the safety glasses (and lab coats sometimes) are very important, research projects are like snow flakes; every one is different, and every single student at UMD can do research if they have an interest and a strong work ethic.

We have an amazing undergraduate research program here at UMD, called UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program). Undergrads (from freshmen to seniors) are invited to find a faculty mentor that works in an area they are interested in, come up with a project, and submit a short proposal outlining the research they want to do. If awarded, the student then carries out the research project over the course of a semester (usually 10 hours per week), under the guidance of the faculty mentor. The student is paid, and funds are also provided to purchase the materials or supplies needed for the work. At the end of each semester, all of the UROP students are invited to share their results at a university-wide poster and presentation session that everyone is invited to attend. It’s really fun!

I do research on sustainable concrete in the Civil Engineering department. Specifically, my research team makes concrete out of waste materials, like glass bottles and jars that would otherwise end up in the landfill. I’ve had 15 UROP students over the past 4 years, and several of them have had such a fun time working as undergraduates, that they stuck around for graduate school! Many of my students have even attended national conferences, such as the American Concrete Institute (ACI) Annual Convention, and the National Council on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), where they were able to present their research to professionals in the industry!

In addition to the UROP program, there are also many opportunities for undergraduate students to work doing hourly research all across campus.  Students that are interested should speak directly to a faculty member that works in the field they are interested in and inquire about research opportunities. I think I speak for all of the faculty at UMD when I say we are always looking for enthusiastic and hard working students to join our research teams!

Mary Christiansen, PhD, LEED AP



Students test the properties of sustainable concrete installed on the UMD campus

Students test the properties of sustainable concrete installed on the UMD campus as part of a UROP project called the Sustainable Sidewalks Project.

student presenting research
Undergraduate student presenting their research at the regional American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) and American Concrete Institute (ACI) Annual Conventions. 

Students in the Civil Engineering high bay lab preparing to mix concrete
Students in the Civil Engineering high bay lab preparing to mix concrete.