Libraries’ Undergraduate Research Award Helps Students Grow As Scholars

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With a librarian’s help, Isabell Ott’s research project grew exponentially into a complete history of an understudied group of viruses comprised of 300 sources of information. Jeri Sasser learned sophisticated methods for an extensive literature search that are key to her new adventures in graduate school, and Lauren Boyd discovered new sources and new ways of thinking critically that lead to summer field research in Baja Big Sur, Mexico.

These three students are just a few examples of the influence that the UGA Libraries Undergraduate Research Award has had on students in the past year.

Since 2007, the Libraries’ Undergraduate Research Award (LURA) has encouraged and

rewarded research excellence and growth as a scholar.

“This award is unique in its emphasis on process rather than product” said Kathleen Kern, librarian and director of the Miller Learning Center Library Commons. “Our criteria emphasize what the student learns from meeting with a librarian and how they apply that knowledge to the creation of their final research paper.”

To qualify for the award, which distributed $3,000 in prize money in 2019, undergraduate students first meet with a librarian to discuss their research and develop a research strategy to explore resources available through the UGA Libraries. The student writes a brief essay about their research process and submits their bibliography of sources consulted.

The essays are assessed by a panel of librarians and a writing consultant, who consider the student’s use of quality information resources, critical thinking, and evidence of developing as a researcher.

In 2012, the Libraries added a Juror’s Choice award to acknowledge use of specialized resources or methods such as the Special Collections’ archives or the Science Library’s Makerspace. 

Garrison Bickerstaff, lecturer and tutor in graduate writing resources with the Division of Academic Enhancement, has been on the LURA awards committee since it started.

“I enjoy reading these essays because they capture the development that the students have made through the research process,” he said. “This award is significant because of the emphasis that is placed on undergraduates to pursue research in areas or formats that they are sometimes not aware of.”

The contest is open to all undergraduate students from across all disciplines and class years. In recent years an increased number of students in STEM fields as well as the arts have applied.

“One might think of in-depth library-based research as being the domain of history, literature, or political science, for example,” Kern said. “But all good research requires a foundation in prior knowledge.”

The program has also experienced an uptick in first-, second-, and third-year student applications, which reflects the growing emphasis at UGA on undergraduate research throughout the course of studies.

“What makes these essays outstanding is how engaged students become with their research topics, often pursuing them beyond the scope of what is needed for the course project,” Kern said. “As a librarian it is exciting to be part of this growth and discovery.”

2019 LURA Recipients

Senior 1st Place ($800)

Isabel Ott, “Bunyamwera Serogroup Viruses in the Americas.” Faculty Advisor: Dr. Daniel Mead. Librarian Advisor: Diana Hartle.

This bibliography grew beyond Isabel’s original research intent into a complete history and distribution of an understudied group of viruses comprised of 300 sources of information.

Senior Runners-up ($450)

Julianne Miao, “Felix Gonzalez-Torre's Portrait of Ross in L.A.: Unmaking Binary Laws.” Faculty Advisor: Dr. Nell Andrew. Librarian Advisor: Lindsey Reynolds.

Julianne used a diversity of resources from UGA and beyond including theoretical essays and primary source materials. The LURA award helped Julianne with post-graduate life as

a curatorial fellow at the Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Jeri Sasser, “A Longitudinal Investigation of Protective Factors for Bereaved Maltreated Youth.” Faculty Advisor: Dr. Assaf Oshri. Librarian Advisor: Sandra Riggs.

For this multi-year research project Jeri met with two different UGA librarians and learned sophisticated methods for an extensive literature search. The award money helped her to move to Arizona where she is a PhD student in psychology.

1st - 3rd Year 1st Place ($600)

Megan McPherson, “Mysteries of the Museum: Uncovering the History of the Georgia Museum of Natural History.” Faculty Advisor: Suzanne Pilaar Birch. Librarian Advisors: Diane Trap and Mazie Bowen.

Megan worked in the Special Collections Building doing archival work on the history of the Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center 100th anniversary exhibit. She is now applying to graduate school in historic preservation.

1st - 3rd Year Runner-up ($300)

Lauren Boyd, “Behind the Scenes of Mexican Paradise: An Exploration into Neoliberalism and Tourism in Mexico Using Qualitative Feminist Methods.” Faculty Advisor: Dr. Patricia Richards. Librarian Advisor: Nan McMurry.

Lauren’s LURA essay described her journey to becoming a better researcher and how her questions changed as she discovered new sources and new ways of thinking critically. Lauren used her award money to help fund summer field research and interviews in Baja Big Sur, Mexico.

Juror's Choice ($400)

Joshua Johnson, “Greater Inclinations: Revolutions of Progress, Beauty, Science, Spirituality, Representation, Gender, and Vision in America's Gilded Age.” Faculty Advisor: Dr. Janice Simon. Librarian Advisor: Diane Trap.

In addition to buying books, Joshua is currently working as a Research Fellow for the Art Bridges Foundation and will join UGA Cortona's team as a Visiting Artist Intern this spring in Italy.

To learn more about the LURA award and read the essays, visit