By Nancy Koeneman In the world of academia, educators and researchers are looking at themselves and finding their reflection lacks color. An 11-year-old program at the UI is helping them paint their future portraits with a palette that includes underrepresented groups from all over the country. The Summer Research Opportunities Program, part of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation's efforts, starts its second decade on the UI campus as it recruits minority undergraduate students to taste the academic life. Hopes are that these students, who are part of underrepresented groups in faculty on most Big 10 campuses, will like what they experience through S.R.O.P. and pursue academic careers. "This is one of the best things universities can do," said Vernon Burton, professor of history and a senior research scientist at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. "I think it's so important that we bring a diversity of people into the history profession and into academics. We have a lot of wonderful things in the lifestyle of the academic." Burton has been a participant in S.R.O.P. for several years, receiving an award last year for the number of years he's volunteered as a mentor. Faculty members are asked to volunteer as mentors for the students who qualify for S.R.O.P. After students are accepted into the program, they look at the kind of research they might want to do and compare it to the list of faculty members who are available as mentors and what kind of work those faculty members are doing. The student then asks a suitable faculty member to serve as a mentor for the summer program. Approximately two-thirds of the students who participate in the program at the UI are also UI undergraduate students. The other one-third come from campuses across the country, and in some cases, from around the world. "We have one student coming from Cal Tech and another might be coming from Washington State University. We also might have a student from Puerto Rico," said Ave Alvarado, assistant to the dean in the Graduate College. The 15 university campuses that participate in S.R.O.P. have alliances with minority schools in the U.S. bring students from those schools into this program. But it is the faculty mentors that drive this program and make it work, Alvarado said. "We've had tremendous success and support from faculty mentors," she said. "Most are truly involved. I've heard them say they wish they'd had this opportunity when they were undergraduates." Norman Denzin, a research professor of communications and a professor of sociology, has given many summers to S.R.O.P. students. One group of students under his tutelage did a research project on the interpretation of social and popular culture through cinema and television representation of minorities. The students polled audiences who viewed specific TV programs and movies to measure audience response to the images presented. The students also compared their own expectations against those represented by the cinematographers. "They were doing some sophisticated research for undergraduates," Denzin said. The students gained experience in research and preparing papers that they presented later in the program, but Denzin said he also got his rewards for the work involved. "I get a lot of enjoyment out of watching them take hold of ideas and develop them," he said. "When they present their paper, it's a time of pride. It simulates a professional presentation." Denzin works with a group of four or five students at a time, gives them a research office and meets with them as a group and individually to work on their research. He sees the long-term payoff in that as he serves as a mentor and role model, eventually his S.R.O.P. students can take his place and serve as role models themselves. Burton most recently worked with a student on a computer project, seeking applications for computer technology to problems a history researcher might encounter. Another year he took two of his graduate students to his hometown of Ninety-Six, S.C., to work on research there. As he works with them, it has been rewarding to see their development, he said. "It's just wonderful to see how the potential is unleashed in these students," he said. "I think they make tremendous gains over the summer." Burton's students also have gleaned success from their experiences. "One got a fellowship at Northwestern, the other at Stanford. One of my students published an article with me. The other published an article as the sole author," Burton said. Although the project is only for a summer, Burton says he has continued to work with the students throughout the school year to refine the paper on their work and prepare it for professional presentation. Dianne M. Pinderhughes, professor of political science and director of the Afro-American Studies and Research Program also has seen her students grow through their work. "[One student] did a paper on voting rights changes, which was submitted to the Department of Justice's civil rights division in 1988 or 1989. [Another student] wrote a paper on electoral politics in Chicago," Pinderhughes said. "I enjoy watching their work develop, and in some cases it gives me additional support for my work. They provide a new approach because they are coming at it from a fresh perspective," she said. "There are some costs. It takes some time, but on the balance, I feel it is a good program." As the faculty members work with their students through the summer, S.R.O.P. also provides additional experience through workshops. "They deal with a number of topics benefiting the students who go on and pursue graduate study - and we assume most of our students are going to go on," Alvarado said. A GRE preparation workshop, and a computer-aided research workshop are just two of the possibilities on this summer's agenda. The program usually offers a total of five workshops, Alvarado said. A total of 70 students come for S.R.O.P. at the UI. In July, past and current S.R.O.P. students, and their mentors gather at one of the Big 10 universities for a conference. The students present papers on their work-in-progress and meet other participants from across the country. "It's much like other academic and professional conferences," Alvarado said. "It's an excellent opportunity for students to network and to meet other students who have come through the program in the past." Past S.R.O.P. participants who are now faculty members are strongly encouraged to come to the conference, giving the undergraduate students a chance to see what their future could be, Alvarado said. Although the program takes time for the mentors, S.R.O.P. is also set up to help with the costs involved. A $750 research allowance is provided to the faculty members, which is sometimes supplemented by the departments. The students are given a stipend. "In some cases, the students are forfeiting an opportunity to work. It's a financial loss for them," Alvarado said. "We don't want them to have to suffer a financial burden." The program serves African-American, Native American, and Puerto Rican students who are U.S. citizens. The primary focus of the program is to recruit quality undergraduate students to graduate school, and eventually to become faculty members at campuses across the country. "We've had a tremendous success rate," Alvarado said. "Most of our students go on to graduate school or professional school, such as law or medicine." Those who do seek a degree in medicine or law are encouraged to also seek a Ph.D., so they can teach in addition to their professional work, she said. The statistics show the success. Over the past 10 years, 67 percent of S.R.O.P. students went on to graduate school. Denzin, who is a great fan of the program said those numbers are good. "It works. That's what I find exciting about it," he said.