Texas Tech University

Pi2 Features College of Human Sciences Student Scholars

by Ellie Ebanks

"The value of undergraduate research became apparent and clear to me when I myself was an undergraduate."

Honors College Dean Michael San Francisco, Ph.D. says he recognized the impact undergraduate research had on him, so when he went on to pursue his own research as a faculty member, he was sure to involve undergraduates. When Dr. San Francisco became a professor at Texas Tech, the first researchers he had in his labs were undergraduate students.

Those same undergraduates helped produce the data he used to receive his first grant. If you visit his office today, you will find the notebooks Dr. San Francisco and his students used to record data in the lab 27 years ago. The covers are worn and faded, and the pages inside them date back to the '90s.

"I keep them in my lab, I have all of them, because it's important," Dr. San Francisco said.

Texas Tech has always supported undergraduate research, but there was never a formal program designed for undergraduate students, outside of the honors college. A year ago, Honors College Administrator Lori Lightfoot was invited to a conference about programs that encouraged freshmen to engage in research. The conference offered great opportunity for Lori to see how other programs involved freshmen, since the Honors College undergraduate research program, Undergraduate Research Scholars, focused primarily on upperclassmen.

"Dean San Francisco and I meet weekly to discuss research in the college, so I brought the idea to one of our meetings," Lori said. "He thought this would be a great opportunity for our incoming students, so we began developing the program. Dean San Francisco brought it to the president and the provost, who wanted to make it available to all incoming freshmen, not just Honors students. Thus, Pi2 was born."

Pi2 was created to engage young minds so that they may know how research is conducted in their field of interest. Students must first apply for the program, and once accepted are divided into five different cohorts. During the first year, students meet once a week with their cohort for a lecture on research methods. The students earn one credit hour each semester for the lecture.

"My attention was drawn to the idea of Music Therapy right around the time I found out about the Pi2 program," Freshman Adyson Hightower said. "So I combined that with my held connection to the Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research and developed a research topic to apply with."

Adyson has seen firsthand the development process of those living with Autism, and she feels it is closely related to the human development side of her undergraduate degree in Human Development and Family Studies. Adyson decided to join Cohort One: Arts, Cultures, Music, and Social Sciences to combine her passion for music with autism research.

"Ultimately, I hope my involvement in this program will allow me to further autism research while sharing my passion for and staying involved in music."

Adyson wants to become a Physician's Assistant (PA), and hopes that her involvement in Pi2 will prove beneficial when she begins applying for PA schools.

There are ten freshmen from the College of Human Sciences (COHS) involved in Pi2 this year. COHS students can be found in Cohorts One: Arts, Cultures, Music and Social Sciences, Cohort Two: Engineering and Process Sciences: Meeting Humanity's Challenges in the 21st Century, Cohort Four: Health and Environmental Sciences: How to Address Human Health Concerns in an Interconnected Age, and Cohort Five: Genetics, Molecular Biology, and Natural Sciences: Life Sciences in the 21st Century.

"I would advise any student wishing to pursue a field in science to apply for this program," Freshman Anthony Inyang said. "The opportunities it withholds are endless, and the experience you gain won't be worth trading for anything."

Anthony is a Human Sciences major from Cohort Five: Genetics, Molecular Biology, and Natural Sciences: Life Sciences in the 21st century. He is one of the 10 COHS students participating in the Pi2 program. Anthony applied for the program to gain hands-on experience working in a research laboratory. The program will expose Anthony to different aspects of clinical science, and will help him network with well-known researchers so that he can one day conduct his own research.

"I chose to participate in this program mainly to establish myself in the science community with future publications of our work to help me develop skills that would prepare me for graduate school and any other classes I have," Freshman John Benavides said. "The variety of new ideas are worth researching."

John is a Nutritional Sciences and Kinesiology double major from Andrews, Texas. He wants to become a Physical Therapist and open his own clinic. John chose both majors because he wants his clientele to have him as their nutritionists, therapist, and personal trainer.

John said that Pi2 gives him an opportunity to gain experience so that he can move up in his field of study, having access to opportunities he otherwise would not encounter. John says that Pi2 teaches him the fundamentals of research such as critical thinking skills, the scientific method, and how to compute data.

The cohorts are tight-knit and offer as much support as they do education. The students attend a class once a week their first year to learn the basics of research. Dr. San Francisco said it's much like learning the basics of cooking before you cook in the kitchen. The lectures prepare students to enter the research field, and teach them how to think like a researcher.

After two semesters in the program, students are placed with a research team and will be paid hourly for the assistance they provide. Students can make researching a part-time job and work up to 20 hours a week. This allows students to spend more time on campus, focusing on their education and career goals. Students can build their resume, gain experience, and make contacts through their involvement with Pi2.

Pi2 is more prescriptive than previous undergraduate research involvement. Students are taught research methods that can later be applied if they choose to work in a faculty research lab their sophomore year. Students will learn how to think like researchers, and hopefully carry that knowledge with them into the lab and their professional lives.
Freshman Adyson offers some advice to her fellow undergraduates who may be interested in Pi2.

"Take something you are passionate about and develop your research around it," Adyson said. "I have always found that if you are passionate about what you are doing, you will not only enjoy it more, but you will do better work, which can benefit all who are connected to your topic."