FURCA shows how questions can take student researchers anywhere

(Edmonton) The University of Alberta’s Undergraduate Research Initiative is taking a “multi-pronged” approach to celebrating student research and productive endeavours on campus with a month-long program of events that reach across all disciplines.

The institution’s inaugural Festival of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities, or FURCA, will see the unveiling of more than 30 activities and events taking place across several campuses in a couple of locations around Edmonton throughout November.

Connie Varnhagen, academic director of the research initiative, says that unlike its namesake, a two-tined fork, FURCA can be “anything you want it to be.”

“It’s students and research, teaching and research, celebrating research and creative activities,” she said. “Not only are we celebrating interdisciplinary research, but this is bringing together people from all of our campuses to celebrate, promote and learn about undergraduate research.”

Though most of the events are focused on touting successful undergraduate research—with StorySlam, research crawls, a Nerd Nite and the third annual undergraduate research symposium—Varnhagen says the festival can also be an opportunity for academics to discover how to develop more opportunities.

“We have faculty development workshops on how to bring undergraduate research into your classes—create an assignment or manage ethics if you are involving undergraduate students in research—and it’s something that’s not difficult to do,” said Varnhagen. “There are going to be great opportunities for students, faculty, grad students and staff.”

Much like the contest that encourages students to submit their thought-provoking questions, she says, FURCA is a celebration of something distinct and inherent to the U of A: discovery, creativity and passion for researching the “big questions.”

“There is no office like the Undergraduate Research Initiative in Canada and probably not anywhere in the world,” said Varnhagen. “We’re promoting all aspects of great research, from talks about great research in classes to learning the tools of the trade—whether it’s parts of a poem or sonata, or learning to distil something—to having an inquiry-based learning environment and mentored research.

“We’re about letting all students discover new knowledge for themselves in whatever way they want.”