Mentoring Research and Being Mentored is Top Priority 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 with Noelle Hurd, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and a VEST faculty affiliate at Youth-Nex. The research project entitled “SEASONS: Students’ Entrance, Adjustment, Social Outcomes, and Next Steps” seeks to better understand how mentors may facilitate academic success during the first year of college among underrepresented students.

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Kellie Choy is a rising 4th year student at The Pennsylvania State University, double majoring in Psychology and Advertising and minoring in Business. Her research interests center on industrial organizational psychology with a specific interest in employee selection and performance management. She is also interested in learning more about adolescent development and programs that can better foster adolescent growth.

Kellie ChoyQuestion: What led you to participate in SURP?

Choy: I had a difficult time adjusting from a small campus of 2,000 students to a bigger campus of 35,000 students. A day before school started I did an orientation program where they took me around campus and answered any questions. From this experience, I was really interested in continuing and being a mentor. I looked up some summer programs and I stumbled upon SURP. I was really interested in SURP because of my experience with the mentoring that I did on campus and I felt like I could learn more about educational psychology and also get research experience at the same time.

Question: What skills are you hoping to build this summer?

Choy: I hope to improve my skills with analyzing data, looking at charts and graphs and understanding what they mean—beyond only just reading the summaries of the results. I actually want to be able to see the information, use the data, and be able to form my own conclusions. I also want to be more familiar with statistical software so that I can use this in graduate school.

Question: How do you think your experiences with SURP might translate over into other areas of work you are interested in?

Choy: After volunteering for that mentoring program in college, I wanted to learn more about efficient ways for students to adjust to campus. I was really excited to see Dr. Hurd’s SEASONS project, which is exactly what I’m interested in doing. I’m involved with a group at my home institution who is trying to form a formal organization to mentor change-of-campus students. It is common for students to start off at smaller campuses and then change to main campus. I want to see if I can learn anything that can help me give some input to the group when I go back in the fall semester.

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Lidia Monjaras-Gaytan is a rising 4th year student at San Diego State University where she is majoring in Psychology. Her current research projects focus on the Commercial and Sexual Exploitation of Children and she is currently looking at risk factors in adolescents who engage in sex exchange. She also serves as a Peer Adviser for the Psychology Department and psychology tutor for students in the Equal Opportunity Program.

Lidia Monjaras-GaytanQuestion: What led you to participate in SURP?

Monjaras-Gaytan: I really wanted to get experience in doing education research for graduate school. I would like to become a professor and do research in education. So, I was looking specifically at summer programs that had to do with psychology and education. Two years ago, I found this program but it said it was only for juniors, so I had to wait a whole year to do it.

Question: What are your current research interests?

Monjaras-Gaytan: The bigger picture would be student success and academic achievement; basically untangling factors that are associated with dropout rates in the first year among underrepresented students and what we can do to improve retention rates. I had a really bad college experience where I just wasn’t prepared. I was a first generation student and it was really, really hard for me. But after a year or two I had a lot of mentors and professors that showed interest in me, which shaped my research interests. I wanted to see how mentoring from my professors effected my success. I am interested in research that I can apply to programs to help students succeed.

Question: What are some of the beneficial aspects of SURP?

Monjaras-Gaytan: The resources SURP provides are a huge benefit. If we need help we can just ask; it’s nice to see how there are different types of mentors you can have. And then, the graduate students, they’re really, really nice. They’re just there to help us, but they answered all of our questions.

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Choy and Monjaras-Gaytan are the first SURP interns interviewed in this series.

For more information about SURP, please visit our website or email CurrySURP@virginia.edu