SOAR Program History 2012-2016

Undergraduate Research (UR) at VCSU has had a growing embrace over the past decade, fueled by dedicated faculty insistent that the research classroom is among the most effective high-impact learning practices.

A traditional thought is that UR is practiced best in a science laboratory or as field work, where the VCSU’s Science Department and its Prairie Waters Education and Research Center has so ably demonstrated.

Recognizing the opportunity to broaden that tradition, then President Steven Shirley announced at his 2012 State of the University Address:

Beginning in 2013, we will lay the groundwork to establish a new undergraduate research program for faculty and students. This new program will create a mechanism for students to work directly with faculty mentors on projects in various academic disciplines. This new research program will help students gain a fundamental understanding of basic research principles and applications, and will serve to benefit not just students participating in the research, but also each of the academic disciplines and faculty sponsors.

As Director of Undergraduate Research and Artistry and as principal investigator for an ED grant from its FIPSE program, Dr. David DeMuth, Jr. leveraged grant dollars to support interdisciplinary student-driven, faculty-mentored projects.  Exemplar projects were hosted by Armando Ramos, Casey Williams, and Sara Hagen with nine students participating.

“The Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education grant which supported the Great Plains STEM Education Center from 2010-2013 was a vital component of the implementation of an inclusive undergraduate research and artistry program at VCSU,”  reported DeMuth, “by allowing the demonstration of function which complemented existing faculty-mentored research activities.”

The FIPSE program allowed broad support of implementing STEM strategies in post-secondary environments which included transforming undergraduate teacher education, hosting educator workshops, initiating a statewide STEM Network, and the initiation for the SOAR program at VCSU. More on the eight goal areas of the grant work reviewed at

In March of 2013, DeMuth solicited VCSU administration for their support of the SOAR program, when Interim President Dr. Margaret Dahlberg provided $10,000 for student awards.

An advisory committee was formed and went to work at designing an undergraduate research program that was modeled after established programs such as the University of Minnesota’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program but best suited for a STEM+Arts focus, versus exclusively scientific, Dr. Steven King and DeMuth co-chairing. The program was named “Student Opportunities for Academic Research” with a firm commitment that academic research is broadly defined.

The first RFP went out in October 2014 with students submitting proposals which were evaluated by the advisory committee for merit using a scoring rubric, seven of the eight students receiving approval for a $1,000 award to pursue novel research with their faculty mentor.

Research commenced in the Spring 2015 with a second RFP resulting in the funding of another two projects, program funding continuing into the 2015-17 academic year.

In May of 2015 President Tisa Mason hosted a celebration banquet with the spotlight on the SOAR program, students, their parents, and many of the advisory committee joined Dr. Dahlberg and King in commentary.

As of the Spring 2016 RFP cycle of the SOAR program, 17 students corresponding to 15 projects have been funded.