Curry Resources and Support are Key for Two SURP Interns


The Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) is a rigorous 8-week internship program funded by the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences as part of the Virginia Education Sciences Training (VEST) pre-doctoral fellowship program.

SURP provides undergraduates from underrepresented populations with valuable research and professional development experiences under the guidance of U.Va. Faculty. Interns are mentored by faculty and graduate student researchers while conducting research, attending workshops, taking GRE preparation courses, and presenting at a professional conference.

The Curry School of Education will be launching a new Question and Answer series with the SURP interns that will be released throughout the summer. This series will highlight the SURP program, and the interns’ experiences, interests, and the research.

The interns highlighted here are working at Foundations of Cognition and Learning (FOCAL) Lab at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) under the direction of Beth Cottone, Ph.D., a research scientist, and Chris Hulleman, Ph.D., a research associate professor. The research project entitled “Developmental Skills Linked to Student Learning in Math and Science Achievement: Identifying Student Skills and Experiences Using Observational Data” examines three developmental areas (visual motor skills, executive functioning, and student motivation) to gain a better understanding of how learning experiences and interactions that students have in these areas are linked to student learning in the domains of math and science.

Taelor Clay is a rising senior at Morgan State University majoring in Psychology with a minor in Screenwriting. Some of her research experience includes examining the relationship between de ja vu and divided attention, and the impact of stereotype threat on women in business. Her research interests include behavioral interventions for girls and young women.

Question: What are your research interests and how has SURP helped define those?

Clay: I’m interested in examining at risk young women in environments like home and school, because I feel like those are the two biggest places where students get set on the wrong path. In my project, I’m working with utility value, which is when students perceive things to be personal and useful in their lives. That’s especially helpful for math and science where people don’t usually make the connections or they often ask the question “why am I learning this”. I’m interested in helping make those connections, and this experience is giving me the pieces to the puzzle, kind of like the bridge that I needed.

Question: What do you think has been the most beneficial aspect of SURP?

Clay: My amazing grad student and faculty mentors. They have been the best part of this whole experience. They make sure that they not only challenge me but they explain to me why they’re challenging me in a certain way. They’re supportive or what I need to do for graduate school so that I at least get the foundational acknowledge.

Question: How has SURP impacted your future career goals?

Clay: SURP has provided me basically with all of the necessary resources that I need. If it doesn’t provide me with the person that I need to talk to, it provides me with the person who knows who I need to talk to. Other summer internships I’ve participated in had different types of support, but this one is so scaffolded and there’s so much help and many resources. SURP has different types of support and its really invaluable. I can honestly say that this is the best internship, and this is my favorite one.

Yessenia Magana is a rising 4th year at California State University, Dominguez Hills where she is majoring in Psychology. Her research interests are in students’ social and cognitive development, learning and motivation, the technology integration in schools, and educational reform. Magana is also a McNair Scholar studying electronic and print book format differences in 2nd grade children’s reading progress.

Question: How has SURP helped you understand education research?

Magana: SURP has helped me a lot. When you asked me what in education are you interested in I had a general view, but being here has allowed me to immerse in a real work setting. So I’m working in a lab and I get to explore and analyze how everyone works. It’s the real thing! This is how people work in research and it fascinates me, and at the same time it’s like they’re humans like I am and you realize the paths they’ve taken. I’m noticing I’m fine tuning my interests a lot more.

Question: How has SURP helped shape your future goals?

Magana: It has shaped my future goals in many ways, personally but academically most of all. It’s also prepping me for every step that I need to take to get there. It’s a very well rounded program. SURP provides me with GRE prep, and lab experience, and workshops; basically everything that I need to know. So it’s just giving me that help to get to my ultimate goal.

Question: What kind of skills are you building or working on?

Magana: A lot. I’m gaining everything; writing skills, stats, analyzing data, interpreting it, and also speaking about it, being able to articulate it. But, my writing skills are improving, speaking about research and being able to articulate what you do in lab is difficult for a lot of scientists. So, that’s helpful for me as well.