Mentor Tom Notton (bottom screen) and Rachel Prost (top screen) meeting via Zoom software to analyze data.

Photo by Rachel Prost

As I enter my final semester at UW-Superior, I never imagined presenting my findings at a virtual research symposium. The virtual audience saw a 12-minute presentation summarizing a 30-page research paper based on 200 hours of work in a three-month timeframe.

This past summer I was awarded a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship. This gave a unique opportunity to spend the summer working on a research project with the support of Tom Notton as my faculty mentor. During this three-month excursion I experienced benefits, encountered surprises, and overcame obstacles with the online SURF program.

I took a thematic approach to analyze data and offer recommendations to transform a nonprofit organization’s social media and website strategy. Since my project involved surveying and interviewing participants the Institutional Review Board (IRB) needed to approve my project. I wrote a 25-page document overviewing my proposed research study, methodologies, informed consent forms and completed the Social and Behavioral Research course.

This process was time-consuming and complicated to navigate as a first-time researcher. However, the members of the IRB were responsive to my questions. Overall, I respected the ethical importance of this IRB submission process to protect individuals who consented to participate in my study.

As a Minneapolis native, I returned home for the summer. Not only did I have all my 1:1 meetings and larger group progress check-ins via Zoom, but all of my research methods were online too. The virtual meetings were convenient since I didn’t need to leave my home and the research workshops were recorded to watch later.

However, potential study participants could easily ignore my emails impacting the number of people my study reached. Also, there was a lack of socialization between other summer researchers and I. I know their names and what they researched, but we missed out on organic networking and conversation opportunities.

When the semester began, the SURF program created more opportunity for us to have in-person experience. Mikayla Haynes, a former SURF recipient, researcher at the Lake Superior Research Institute was a great resource to help guide us.

We hoped our annual research symposium could be a hybrid format this year. As we monitored the development of the COVID-19 pandemic we determined to hold the event virtually.

On September 28, from 4-6 p.m., three Zoom sessions ran simultaneously. My friends and family from out of town attended as the virtual format removed geographic barriers. However, I missed the excitement and energy of networking with others and visiting posters.

It was important to remain flexible and adapt accordingly. The funding I received for this project and my mentor’s support makes me grateful for the opportunity to build my skills as a visual communicator who builds a positive experience between people and technology.

The Summer Undergraduate Research Programs accepts applications for the 2022 summer program in early January. Please contact for more information.