The University of Utah is one of the top research academic institutions in the Intermountain West, and it’s thanks in major part to the U’s undergraduate student researchers and the faculty who advise and mentor them.

Some of the university’s up-and-coming researchers and mentors were honored at the 2023 Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) Awards, held virtually on April 3 due to a winter weather advisory in the Northern Utah area.

Every year, OUR recognizes one undergraduate student researcher from each college/school with the Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award, according to the office’s website. Partnering colleges and schools are responsible for selecting the awardee.

Dr. Annie Isabel Fukushima, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and associate dean of Undergraduate Studies at the U, said the OUR recognizes that to foster a culture of future problem-solvers working in tandem with current premier researchers in their fields of study, they must also foster a culture of recognition and rewards.

This year, 16 undergraduate researchers were honored with the Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award, three of them from the College of Science:

Yexalen Barrera-Casas (left) Mentor: Professor Michael Morse, Dept. of Chemistry

Alison Wang (center) Mentor: Professor Caroline Saouma, Dept. of Chemistry

Nancy Sohlberg (right) Mentor: Professor Gannet Hallar, Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences

“The Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Awards exemplify excellence in research at the University of Utah across the disciplines,” Fukushima said. “The awardees are creative thinkers, innovators, and solving pressing societal problems.”

Dr. Carena Frost, Associate Vice President for Research Integrity and Compliance at the University of Utah, gave opening remarks on behalf of the Office of the Vice President for Research (VPR). Frost told the audience there’s no doubt the student researchers will continue to innovate in science, medicine, technology and many more fields thanks to the work they do.

“Research is all about helping people,” she said. “Finding solutions for our society is what gets me most excited about the future of research at the U, and you are at the forefront of it.”

At the ceremony event, award recipients were able to thank their mentors, family and others for their support. Four students were honored for being Parent Fund Undergraduate Research Scholarship recipients.

For the first time in the event’s history, mentors were honored with the Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award. Nineteen mentors were recognized at this year’s event.

Fukushima, who is also an associate professor of Ethnic Studies, was one of the mentor award honorees. She said mentoring relationships are successful because of commitment, communication, and a culture — both within a department and university-wide — that is invested in research occurring at all stages of academic, from undergraduate to faculty.

“Student-faculty collaborations are successful because mentors invest the time, and mentees are willing to risk going into the unknown and the uncomfortable,” Fukushima said. “Doing research is hard, but it can be rewarding.”

More information and criteria for both awards can be found on the OUR’s website to see OUR awards program click here.