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First Year Research Awards Program

Wittenberg's New First Year Research Awards Program Opens Up Immediate Engagement Opportunities For Incoming Students

Designed to match outstanding students with Wittenberg’s award-winning faculty, Wittenberg's new First Year Research Awards (FYRA) program provides stellar opportunities for high-achieving students to pursue an exciting research project with a faculty member during their first year at Wittenberg.

Twelve students were selected to receive awards this past academic year. They included Caleb Austin of Harrod, Ohio, and Alyssa Ulrich of Curtice, Ohio, who worked with Amber Burgett, associate professor of biology; Rachel Wallenhorst of Wickliffe, Ohio, and Katrina “Trina” Rosing of Fort Mitchell, Ky., who worked with Richard Phillips, associate professor of biology; Angela Gialanella of Adamsburg, Pa., who worked with Sally Brannan, associate professor of education; Dorothy Rees of Milford Center, Ohio, who worked with Amy McGuffey, assistant professor of education; Darby Szmania of Toledo, Ohio, who worked with Michelle McWhorter, associate professor of biology; Jamin Waite of Lexington, Ky., who worked with Julius Bailey, associate professor of philosophy; Ashley Save of Toledo, Ohio, who worked with Brian Yontz, associate professor of education; Kaitlyn Zebell of Waynesville, Ohio, who worked with Mike Mattison, associate professor of English; Kelly Darnell of Shelbyville, Ky., who worked with Brooke Wagner, associate professor of sociology; and Alexandra Gibson of Lebanon, Ohio, who worked with Margaret Goodman, professor of biology.

Through the new FYRA program, "students work closely with their faculty mentor on a research project and attend a monthly meeting that focuses on research issues," said Jeremiah Williams, associate professor of physics and one of the program directors. Only students who participate in the on-campus Provost Scholarship Days are considered for these special interest awards, which provide a non-renewable $2,000 ($1,000 per semester) for the student’s first year only. Seventeen faculty members volunteered to offer a research opportunity to accepted students who then applied during the scholarship visit day.

As part of the program, FYRA recipients devoted between six and eight hours per week across their first year to the program and their research-related project according to a learning contract agreed upon by the sponsoring professor and the scholarship recipient.

“I worked under the umbrella of the philosophy department and the African and Diaspora studies program for my project. I enjoyed collecting more knowledge in these fields, [along with] taking a philosophy course my first semester," Waite said. "In the program, I did research about the role of black women intellectuals who helped progress social change. This program was an opportunity to have a mentor-like relationship with a faculty advisor as a freshman, who finds it hard to initiate conversations with my professors.”

Waite, who is majoring in English with minors in creative writing and Spanish, worked with Upward Bound, and participates in the Wittenberg Review of Literature and Art, Fact in Fiction, the Chamber Orchestra and Concerned Black Students. 

Austin, a biology major and education minor, wants to be a high school biology teacher.

“I worked closely with Dr. Burgett and a few other students on different research projects,” said Austin, who is also a member of the men’s soccer squad, and track and field team. Additionally, he completed the Emerging Leaders program and was a member of the Wittenberg Investment Club.

“We created an individual research project for me to work on as well, that was still connected with a few other students. I learned new skills and got a head start on research experience. I also made friends with the other FYRA students. It was a great and fun experience, and I will continue doing research with Dr. Burgett again next year.”

Participating students are also required to present their research in an appropriate venue. Many of them presented at Wittenberg's annual Celebration of Learning in the spring, but some presented at regional conferences with guidance from their program mentors. Rosing and Wallenhorst, in partnership with Phillips, for example, presented their collaborative research at the Ohio Partnership for Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (OHPARC) Conference in Columbus, Ohio and at the Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference (MEEC) in Kalamazoo, Mich.  

To learn more about FYRA, go to

Photo: Darby Szmania, of Toledo, Ohio (right), presented her project during A Celebration of Learning on April 6.

Cindy Holbrook
Cindy Holbrook
Senior Communications Assistant

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About Wittenberg

A nationally ranked university for the liberal arts and sciences affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Wittenberg University has repeatedly been ranked throughout the years by the Princeton Review for the quality of its teaching and faculty, including 11th in the nation for "Best Classroom Experience" and 15th in the category "Professors Get High Marks" in the 2011 edition of Princeton's annual Best Colleges guide. Most recently, Wittenberg earned the No. 4 spot in the category of "Most Accessible Professors." Wittenberg appeared in the Princeton Review's Guide to Green Colleges in 2013 and again in 2015. Additionally, Wittenberg currently has more Ohio Professors of the Year than any other four-year institution in the state, and has been recognized nationally for excellence in service and athletics.

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