Mentoring URS students: Our brief but spectacular take

Over the last four years, with my spouse as co-investigator, I have benefitted greatly from having outstanding Undergraduate Research Scholarship (URS) students on our team for two research projects supported by UMRA’s Professional Development Grants for Retirees program: one focused on improving the outcomes for Minnesota youths with HIV/AIDS and the second analyzing all the deaths and transitions (cremation, burial, both) in Minnesota over seven years. Our success was solely dependent on our students.

URS scholarships are offered by the University Admissions Office to prospective freshmen as part of the admissions award package. Those students who accept are awarded $1,700, half upon matriculation and the remainder after completing a mentored research project. 

How does a retired faculty member recruit URS students? Simple; your research abstract is posted on the URS web site and students respond—rapidly. 

After reviewing resumes and interviewing exciting candidates, we chose four students per PDGR project. With our mentoring, each student successfully developed a unique research project. Research Team meetings were held in the Campus Club, perfect for treating students to lunch as they were always hungry. 

Mentoring URS students, of vastly different backgrounds, was a pleasure. All were incredibly bright and remarkably effective in getting the information and analysis needed for their projects. 

Full of surprises

Our mentorship experience was more than just data management. URS students were full of surprises: one student from Romania had the best use of the English language we've ever encountered; another from Lebanon read a statistics book overnight and applied his learnings the next day. 

Yes, a few students had a tough time adjusting to the University workload, and one immigrant student’s family needed help coping. But we did enjoy dinner with another student’s mother (a professor from the Middle East), and we marveled at the daily change in hair color of another superb student.   

After many mentorship meetings, all our URS students successfully completed their research plans and presented outstanding posters at the Undergraduate Research Symposium. To date, three have been accepted for outstanding STEM graduate programs and one at the U of M Medical School. 

What an incredible and satisfying relationship. Marcie and I would be delighted to discuss this mentoring opportunity with anyone interested.

—Jonathan I. Ravdin, MD, adjunct professor of medicine, and Marcie Christensen Ravdin, former Medical School administrator