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Unique Perspectives

There are some really unique opportunities at Rochester that allow our students to get the most out of their education.  The open curriculum and the courses available are not the only avenues for success.  Students at Rochester participate in research alongside world renowned professors and lead studies of their own.  Opportunities like the Portable Research Grant are available to them as early as freshman year.  Many students participate in Rochester’s – tuition free – Take 5 Program.  They use their 5th year to study something new, travel abroad or just continue the work they have been pursuing for another year.  Rochester also offers the Kauffman Entrepreneurial Year (KEY) Program — a program that allows students to devote an entire academic year to internships, special projects, research, or developing a business plan.  For each student at Rochester, these unparalleled opportunities  take different shapes.  We would like to share at least 2  stories from 2 very different perspectives.

Julieta Gruszko ’12
Double Major in Physics and Math
Hometown: Poughkeepsie, NY

Julieta came to Rochester knowing that she wanted to do research, so when she received the Portable Research Grant (PRG) application in the mail it was the confirmation she needed to know that Rochester was the place for her.

“You hear a lot about what schools’ philosophies are and what they aim to promote in their school.  Every school says similar things with some variation, but you assume it’s just rhetoric. But for me, getting that PRG application was the confirmation that U of R puts their money were their mouth is.  It’s not just an advertising strategy – it’s real and they really do believe in getting people to have self-directed learning and research. They believe in it enough to give you a research grant when they don’t even know how you’re going to use it yet.”

From her first semester at Rochester, she was eager to start working.  What she learned is that there is always a way to get to where you want to go.

“I figured no one would take me for research because I was a first-semester freshman.  I talked to some people and got some helpful hints.  Through Rochester’s work study program, I got an administrative job in the Physics Department just to be there and that actually helped.  I got to know people and that’s the most important thing, I think.  Once you have your foot in the door, it’s easy to find more.”

She admits that PRG was also helpful in getting her started with her research.

“Most people in the department start sophomore year, which is also early by most colleges’ standards, but PRG allowed me to get hired my first summer here.  In retrospect, I’m really glad that I stayed on campus last summer because I became a part of the department in a way that I hadn’t been before.”

She teamed up with Professor Mamajek, associate professor in the Physics and Astronomy Department, for her first research project.   Using a paper Professor Mamajek published in 2008, Julieta’s research involved  finding more accurate ages for field stars (stars that aren’t in clusters) in our area of the galaxy.  Over the summer, she created a compiled catalog using data from surveys from over 2000 stars.  This semester she went back to work for Professor Mamajek.  She has been cleaning up her work in preparation for writing up a paper — a paper she hopes to submit to The Astrophysical Journal as first author.

“I’m going to be first author on a paper by my sophomore year of college, which is really exciting.   The entire project was just me and Professor Mamajek making all the decisions so it wasn’t like I had gotten someone else’s work handed to me.  He’s a new professor, yet he’s willing to give up first author on a paper for a project that he supervised to an undergrad just so that I can get my name out there.  I was amazed by that, and it’s not just him, it’s all the professors in the department.  They want to see that their students go somewhere interesting.  They are willing to put aside their own careers to advance their students and to get us started.  I think that’s something you find all over the place at U of R.”

Colin Brown, Alumni ’07
PhD candidate at Harvard University, Political Science
Hometown: Tillamook, OR

Colin knew he was  going to be a political science major when he came to Rochester, but his long term goal was to attend journalism school.   In his sophomore year, he realized he wanted to study poly sci from an academic perspective.  Doing the Take 5 program was a way for him to further explore his interests in a very unique way.

“Instead of using my Take 5 year to study a different topic, which many of my friends did, I wanted to study a very similar topic in a very different way.  At the time I was interested in how European countries and other countries were dealing with immigration, especially how Islamic immigration was different from other immigrant groups.  So I decided to study abroad in Amsterdam the first semester of my Take 5 year.  It seemed like a logical place to go, because the program was taught in English, provided  research opportunities, and offered really good courses taught by great faculty.”

Students can apply to the Take 5 program as early as sophomore year, allowing  them to structure those 8 extra courses however they see fit throughout their time at Rochester.  For Colin, everything led up to his study abroad program.

“I took some anthropology classes and I took some classes on Islamic history. The focus of my Take 5 was around religion and anthropology courses but up to that point I had been a really quantitative political scientist.  I really liked learning about formal scientific ways of looking at political science so I wanted a year to approach a question that interested me in a personal, anthropological, ethnographic way.”

During his time in Amsterdam, Colin was exposed to the actual form of politics.  He met and interviewed leaders of local party organizations and Islamic organizations.  It was an important, eye-opening experience to see what local-level city council members thought about issues surrounding immigration.  When he returned, he used the 60-80 hours worth of interviews to write some final papers and spent his last semester finishing up his remaining requirements.  He is now pursuing his PhD at Harvard University, formally studying European politics.  He admits that he still relies on his Take 5 experience because  much of his research today takes him overseas.

“I really liked the way I was doing political science at Rochester, so I decided to go straight into a PhD program at Harvard.  As I pursue my current research, I can draw on the contacts I have in Amsterdam and The Hague because I had formed those relationships during my Take 5 year.  All of these programs – the open curriculum, the Take 5, the KEY program – are great in and of themselves.  But what is special about them is that they draw in the type of people who create a very academically focused and passionate — interested and interesting — community.  Being surrounded by that is one of the greatest things about the U of R.”


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