Campus Currents

25 Years and Counting Opportunities for undergraduates to do meaningful research at UNH has been changing lives for a quarter century

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George Adams '12 could come up with only two words to describe his research experience at UNH: Life-changing. He was speaking to a crowd gathered for the 25th anniversary of UNH's Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research (formerly the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program). And he was telling the story of his many research experiences through the years, all of them supported by the center, all of them contributing to the five-year fellowship he'd just received to pursue a masters degree at the University of Chicago. "The implications for my life going forward are enormous," he said.

Since its founding in 1987, the center has been offering students like Adams, and more than 3,000 others, opportunities to do meaningful research across all disciplines—in more than 70 different majors. In 1997, the program expanded when then-director Donna Brown and Cathy Frierson of the Center for International Education applied for a grant from the U.S. Department of Education that helped to create the International Research Opportunities Program, a first-in-the-nation initiative designed to send students overseas for independent research. And then, in 2004, a transformative gift from Dana Hamel launched a new era for the center, increasing the number of funded projects by more than two thirds. One student, upon meeting Hamel for the first time at a donor event, threw her arms around him in an enthusiastic hug—a spontaneous outpouring of appreciation for the enrichment his support had made possible. "His is really a wonderful legacy," says Molly Doyle, administrative director for the center, noting that 100 percent of the funding for student research comes exclusively from the center's generous donors.

"The other side of the formula," says the center's current director Paul Tsang, "is our faculty. Without them, their time and energy, there would be no program." Tsang, who has been a mentor himself dozens of times through the years, says there's nothing like seeing the spark in a student's eye when they catch on to something. "Or hearing them say thank you for giving me the courage and confidence." For their part, students say working closely with a committed faculty mentor is the highlight of their undergraduate education.

Nicholas Mantis '88, the keynote speaker at the recent Hamel Center anniversary celebration and one of the center's first award recipients, credits his undergraduate research experience with setting him on course for his life work. Today, Mantis is a research scientist for the Division of Infectious Diseases, Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health, a research-intensive public health laboratory. "My UNH experience convinced me that research was my path. And my story," he said, "is just one of many."

—Suki Casanave '86G

A shorter version of this story appeared in the Spring '12 UNH Magazine.

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